April 1, 2012

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Utah Business Staff

April 1, 2012

BHASKAR: One of the things that has surprised me is how readily ATC is represented as part of the economic plan. Much as the EDC uses your offerings, You need to raise your profile. And you need to be more legislatively active. If you have 41 legislators, get them all together like how the UTC or USTAR did and make a big push to get some additional funding to grow the economy, because you really are engines of the manufacturing economy.

Manufacturers can come into town; but if they can’t find good labor, qualified labor, they can’t do much.

STEPHENS: You’re right. And when you think about St. George, I am sure that none of you think, “Oh, what a great manufacturing center.” You come to St. George to play golf or to buy a retirement home there. Fifteen years ago, our economic development director knew that we needed to diversify our economy, and he has worked diligently to bring manufacturing to St. George. We have a growing manufacturing base, and with that came the need to support them.

We supported our manufacturers with Custom Fit until a few years ago when we hatched a program called Manufacturing U. It has a twist that’s a little bit different than any of the other educational programs for manufacturers. We take incumbent workers, we give them a certificate, a 900-hour certificate. They take that training while they’re working.

We target the people who work for you. They’re awesome people. They happened into manufacturing; they didn’t choose to go into manufacturing. They got jobs and then got married and then had kids. And they always meant to go to school, but it just didn’t ever happen. They’re in their 30s with a family to support, and how are they going to go back to school? So we target those people, and they get a certificate with an opportunity, then, to get to college and get a degree.

What we’re producing is the next generation of plant management. They’re people who happened into manufacturing, and now they’re trained and have a certificate or a degree. They stay in manufacturing, and then they say to their kids and their friends’ kids, “Manufacturing is awesome.”

We’re trying to break this crazy notion that, “Manufacturing is not for my kid,” and build an enthusiasm for manufacturing. We’re seeing that happen in Southern Utah.

ROVIRA: From the Governor’s Office’s perspective, manufacturing is a key sector, because when we look at the top 10 exports coming out of Utah, the growth is all in manufacturing. We’re talking about the mining sector, medical and surgical instruments, computers and electronics. In 2010 we experienced a 30-plus percent increase in exports. Year to date in November, we had experienced almost 40 percent growth. But it’s all focused on manufacturing. So for the state, we see a lot of those opportunities that your companies are looking with the optimistic outlook in international.      

How is Utah’s economy faring from your perspective?
BHASKAR: The overall economy is doing much better this year. We have seen the worst; it’s over. Now you can see a demand going up from existing customers, which is a good sign. The reason why last quarter nationally we had lower profit numbers was not because companies were losing money, it’s because they were buying a lot of equipment last quarter and depreciating it. So what we saw nationally as a drop in profits was really an investment in capital equipment, and that was a big change that happened last year.

This year we’re looking at more optimism among companies that want to come back and buy or upgrade products. The economy is doing well now, and it’s good to see positive things happening.

BRIGHTWELL: We work with companies that are looking to come from out of state; but we’re working with a lot of existing companies—companies around this table. Futura is looking to grow and expand, so is L3 Communications, all came in the same month. We have 190 active projects in our stable right now. It’s a lot of activity. A lot of it’s jammed into the front end of the pipeline, and that’s challenging for us.

Would each of you in manufacturing be willing to have high school students tour your factory sometime? I just think they would walk in and think, “This is pretty cool. I like to tinker; my mom wants me to go to college. I would be more comfortable here.”

DICKSON: We do it all the time. We have a $14,000 smoothie machine that these kids love. We do a little blend, give them a smoothie. That’s how the whole thing ends. But they get a feel for manufacturing, be it the Scouts or the high school students.

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