And not just any goats, but the cashmere variety of Afghanistan. Their luxurious wool accounts for 7 percent of the world’s cashmere supply.
“On one day, I’d be working with goats and suppliers in Afghanistan. On another day I’d be talking to the biggest representatives of the world’s fashion brands and telling the story of a cashmere supply that hardly anyone knew about,” Ben says.
A few years later, he is 7,228 miles from Afghanistan and has been hired as Salt Lake City’s Deputy Director of Economic Development. Growing up between North Carolina and Utah, Ben graduated from Utah State University, and his wife, Michon, decided it was time to come home.
It turns out his career experience during two Obama Administrations set Ben up nicely for the portfolio he will now manage for the City. The work of matching a cashmere supply with the right buyers, as he did for four years under the auspices of the Pentagon, required strong skills in relationship building and branding strategy. Following that position, Ben joined the U.S. Department of Commerce, as an Obama appointee, as senior adviser to SelectUSA, a program that promotes the United States to foreign and domestic investors as the premier place to do business in the world.
“It was all client-facing work and this feels like a natural transition,” Ben says of his new post. “It requires a kind of start-up mentality in growing an entity within the bigger department.”
The entity in this case is Economic Development, which Mayor Biskupski established just last year as a stand-alone, cabinet-level department within the City. The Department is on a rapid trajectory, with Director Lara Fritts and an energetic, committed team.
“Ben’s national and international experience in recruiting and retaining businesses will add tremendous value to our team,” said Lara. “Salt Lake City now has someone who previously worked to ‘sell’ and promote the United States as perfect for business – how better can it get?”
As the Department of Economic Development evolves and takes greater shape, Ben will be instrumental in developing and executing a strategic plan. And while the days of promoting luxurious goat cashmere to fashion industries are over, Ben sees ample opportunities for Salt Lake City growth right here at home.
“The Northwest Quadrant is an incredible opportunity for the City – between an international airport, major railways and interstates, and the soon-to-be constructed UPS shipping center, businesses have major incentives to invest in Salt Lake, “Ben says. “I’m also excited to elevate our Foreign Trade Zone to better serve businesses, and to focus on new and existing client relationships; to continue Salt Lake City’s world-class customer service.”
Not bad for a guy who smiles and admits he took an internship in Washington D.C. in 2009 “just so I could go to the Obama inauguration.”
But with the birth of baby son, Logan, four months ago and a new administration in Washington, the chance to move back home beckoned Ben and Michon. They bought a downtown condo, and he relishes the opportunity to live in a walkable, urban, artistic community.
“I need to buy a Green Bike membership,” he says.
Ben earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from USU and an MBA from Georgetown. A rabid baseball fan, he wrote his master’s thesis on how a city can bring a major-league baseball franchise to town.
Now that’s an economic development project. Stay tuned.
To learn more about Salt Lake City’s Department of Economic Development, visit http://www.slcgov.com/economic-development