September 1, 2009

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Best of Business 2009

Putting a Wrap on the Year’s Top Headlines

By Linda T. Kennedy

September 1, 2009


In a year of significant turmoil from economic despair to pandemic, the straight news from the past several months is so infused with drama that one could almost imagine some of the stories competing for script recognition on Broadway. As a matter of fact, there’s some hungry would-be playwright combing the Utah Business magazine pages for tomorrow’s big hit. Can’t you hear it now? Hisses and boos for those AIG—umm—payroll people. And while we’re not nominating anything for a Tony here, our annual Best of Business allows the Utah Business team to let its hair down and offer an after-5 p.m. perspective on this year’s top headlines. As a matter of fact, after five is cocktail hour, which in Utah, is now the… Best Reason to Raise Your Glass The value associated with Utah’s new liquor laws all depends on how you look at it. On the one hand (that would be the one holding a martini or screwdriver), the Utah Legislature’s decision to modify the state’s liquor laws means bars and clubs are now really open for business for Utahns and tourists, adding more green to the economy. On the other hand (that would be the one holding a Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers) those quirky laws have had a part in Utah’s low DUI rates and underage drinking stats. So far, Utah has the lowest alcohol-related fatality rate in the nation. Creating the cocktail between keeping Utah safe and the state’s beehive buzzing has been a delicate political mix to achieve. It’s sobering to wonder what the state’s future might have been had they never succeeded. So, no matter how you wash it down, you can give our legislators a hand. Best News Flogging this Year The down, sliding, falling, economy or economic meltdown, downturn or turndown—no matter how you word it, and it’s been worded every possible way, the recession will go down as the story of the year. You’ve got the numbers so we won’t punch them out again. We’ve all had it up the wazoo with percentages and data reminding us that to dream the impossible dream now is thinking about retirement. What’s really needed is more about the good ol’ Yankee ingenuity proving again, necessity is the mother of invention. Recessions, after all, catapult start-ups. General Electric, Walt Disney, Microsoft and Google all started during bad times, and Facebook and MySpace emerged shortly after the dot-com crash. “A good forest fire cleans out the prairie,” says renowned venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson. And, according to a recent study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, more than half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list this year began during a recession or bear market or both. People, if you’ve got a smokin’ idea, get it out there. Best West to East Connection We are not losing a Governor, we are exporting a Utah’s own champion. A recent report from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) says there are projections that China will overtake the U.S. as the biggest economy by 2027. Well, they are well on their way, buying up corporate assets the world over. Analysts in a July Businessweek article say Chinese authorities probably froze a deal for GM’s Hummer by construction equipment company Sichuan Tengzhong out of fear the Chinese outfit lacks the expertise to run a U.S. company. Well, we should say! Rumor has it that Tibetan employee moral is rather low since Chinese takeovers in that country. But Ambassador Jon Huntsman can sit down now with the Chinese top dogs and not only introduce them to better business practices, but Utah’s Own goodies, like Premium Ice Cream Creamies. While governor, Jon Huntsman was an important ambassador to Utah’s Own products. So if you think it’s a stretch to eventually see the Beehive State’s products marketed in China, remember that 20 years ago Jon Huntsman could only stand outside the doors of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest China’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Well he’s in the door now, which might mean Green Tea Creamies. Best Royalty Resurgence Whoever said America’s Camelot, the Kennedy administration days, wouldn’t be back was born before President Barack Obama put down his law books for a political career. After all, how doesn’t the Obama family resemble the Kennedy’s pomp and circumstance? Well, there are a couple of things: Jackie didn’t get in the dirt and plant vegetables like Michelle did with students from Bancroft Elementary School in the District. However, on Michelle’s trip to Moscow in July, the talk was all about her gardening; the Russian magazine Ogonyok called her, “The Queen of the Fields: Michelle Obama and her husband can overturn our understanding of America.” Let’s hope so because speaking of sod, digging and so forth, the ditch President Obama needs to pull us out of goes from about here to China. But if he can clear this health care and economic sludge we’re wading through, who wouldn’t give him a crown? Has anyone ever seen Obama in waders? (Sarah Palin, do you have a pair Obama can borrow?) The Best Way to Pass Notes under your Desk First we get more said faster with the Internet. Now we get less said faster with Twitter, and you know what they say…less is more. And what more could you want than 4 million people’s feelings about Michael Jackson at 5,000 tweets per second? On the day of Jackson’s memorial, Jackson-related tweets occupied all 10 of Twitter’s top-trending topics. Tweets about Michael Jackson’s death on June 25 tripled the number of tweets generated about other topics such as the Iranian election and swine flu, according to Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. What twitter has done to indicate our priorities is phenomenal. And before Twitter, did you ever see people fight in 140 characters or less? Now I’m not a naysayer of social media. Thanks to tools like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, entrepreneurs can build relationships online and reach many prospective clients. Truly, the social media opportunities that pop up everyday and the limitless volume that we can ascend to in virtual noise are remarkable. After all, what is the freedom of expression if it isn’t being able to shoot out something about everything all the time anywhere? I’ll bet your trigger-happy finger, I mean twitter-happy finger, can’t resist saying something about this right now, can it?!! Best Local Economic Stimulus in Action When actress Lily Tomlin said, “The road to success is always under construction,” she must have been speaking about Utah. Orange barrels rolled out across the state’s roadways and highways, on I-80 and I-15 in recent months. And this past summer, narrow lanes and harrowing cement barricades rivaled the most innovative arcade-style driving game at amusement parks. But the challenges you can have on Utah’s highways are real and the stress is free. What’s more, this construction is integral to pulling Utah out of the recession. The Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah) says the $5 billion in transportation funding the 2009 Utah Legislature passed should create 25,000 jobs. Of course, sitting longer in plugged traffic also creates more carbon monoxide emissions and diminishes the ozone layer. But, whether it’s pot holes or ozone holes, it all goes to making green… Utah’s Best Color Last year, the number of Salt Lake businesses gaining e2business status almost doubled, indicating throngs of Utah businesses are recycling and reducing their carbon footprint. But if you’re one of those business owners who aren’t convinced going green is worth it, wait until you see the carrotmob at your competitor’s door. They’re a group of enviro-minded consumers led by a San Francisco entrepreneur that rewards businesses with mass purchases if they promise to use some of their profits toward green initiatives. One carrotmob spent more than $9,200 at a San Francisco store, which put 22 percent of that chunk of change into green lighting. Carrotmobs have branched out to 10 other U.S. cities and two in Europe, so they could hit the Beehive State soon. And if you’re green and moving to Utah, that’s even better since offering tax incentives is Utah’s… Best Carrot The Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s EDTIF Tax Credit is drawing scads of major U.S. companies to Utah. With Ortovox USA (avalanche equipment), Louis & Co. (woodwork and cabinet making equipment), Orgill (home improvement products) and Reckitt Benckiser (personal care products) announcing plans for Utah distribution centers in the months to come, jobs are being created in the state. If this carrot ever became less appealing for some odd reason, GOED has the perfect back-up: Hershey’s Ogden Distribution Center is up and running. And although we have yet to hear about an outlet retail store, the very idea of pounds of chocolate right under our nose could eventually make Utah the distribution capital of the whole world. The Best Burgers Really now, how many ways can you put a piece beef between two buns? Well, Utah is trying to show you. As a matter of fact, at The Counter, there’s apparently 312,120 ways you can eat a burger. Order one with “everything on it” and it will be a $45, 5-pound artery buster. The Oprah Winfrey Show included the restaurant on a list of “20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die.” (There is also other data related to burger consumption and death.) But Utahns take their burger consumption seriously. There’s even a Website dedicated to it: utahhamburger.com, started by a local Samaritan who “has an affinity for a good hamburger” and is dedicating his time to helping others find one. That would be on about every corner. Utah is now home to Five Guys, Tonyburgers, Smashburger and the celebrated In-N-Out Burger. Five of the eight new restaurant franchises entering the Utah market this past year were burger-related, bringing 40 to 50 new locations into Utah’s economic bloodstream. And the goodness doesn’t stop there: these burgers give Utah added opportunity to stay in the forefront in developing new cardiology techniques and technologies. Best Warpath To any who dispute the Utes deserving their No. 2 AP poll ranking, the fans have one thing to say: 13-0. Now if only the BCS rankings could be as perfect as that score. Utah started the football season ranked No. 28, but quickly proved the rankings (and many college football enthusiasts) wrong as they won game after game after game. Brian Johnson, “King Louie” Sakoda and, of course, Coach Kyle Whittingham led the team to the very end, right past TCU and BYU, to an undefeated 12 game regular season. Alabama was set to squash Utah in the Sugar Bowl, but the faithful fans remained cheering and some even road stinky buses to New Orleans to witness the blood bath. And a blood bath it was. Sports analysts, anchors and especially Alabama fans ate their words as Utah got down to business and shut down Alabama right from the first quarter for a 31-17 win. Best Chorus Line Last year’s Best of Business poked at $4-a-gallon gas prices that weren’t expected to decrease in the coming year. And we also visited the angst over the “slipping” real estate market, saying that home prices were holding relatively steady due to “a strong employment market.” What a difference a year makes. It just goes to show, we can write it but we can’t always call it. Finally, last year’s Best of Business story ended saying 2008 wasn’t too bad of a year and “Here’s hoping things will look even better this time next year.” Well, here, here, cheers to that! After all, what’s worth saying once is worth saying again. But this year, hope harder. Candace M. Little contributed to this article.
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