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Exports key economic driver in Utah

Published: Thursday, Sept. 22 2011 10:31 p.m. MDT

Tour of dignitaries as as Kennecott shows off the copper production process, including behind-the-scenes looks at the operations of the refinery, tank house, stripping area, bundling and loading during their "Heavy Metal Tour" , where the copper they're showing off will be sent elsewhere for fabrication and then come back here to be used in the Utah Museum of Natural History's new building, the Rio Tinto Center where the copper will be used to wrap the building, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009,in Magna, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's booming export industry is critical to the state's economy, according to a University of Utah report.

The latest volume of the Utah Economic and Business Review indicated that the Beehive State exported $13.6 billion in goods last year — with gold and silver accounting for nearly 52 percent of the state’s exports by value at $7 billion.

Excluding gold and silver, Utah’s international exports for 2010 were valued at nearly $6.6 billion.

Speaking Thursday before the Utah International Relations and Trade Commission at the state Capitol, a senior researcher said exports have "definite significant impacts on employment" and overall production in numerous economic sectors.

"Almost 66,000 jobs are supported by export industries," said John Downen, research analyst with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah. Among the top exports are computer memory, industrial products, precious medals and minerals, he noted.

Since 2007, four of the top five Utah exports have increased, led by gold, which has seen its commodity price skyrocket during the recession. Gold traded for just over $600 per ounce in January 2007 peaked near $1,900 last month and is selling for about $1,785 per ounce today.

The state has increased its gold exports 132 percent since 2007.

Excluding gold, the state’s largest export by value was computer memory, with $1.2 billion shipped abroad. Rounding out the top five were miscellaneous food preparations at $298 million, molybdenum at $279 million, civilian aircraft engines at $277 million and safety airbags at $201 million.

The report stated that those five commodities represented 35 percent of Utah’s exports — excluding gold and silver — in 2010.

Downen said Utah exports a broad range of goods, including electronics, food and other animal products, aircraft engines, automotive parts, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, personal care products, sporting goods, and industrial goods, such as valves, drilling tools and fuses.

The export of goods and products from Utah is growing faster than any other state in the country. In fact, during the past five years, Utah is the only state in the nation to have doubled its volume of exports.

During his State of the State address, Gov. Gary Herbert challenged businesses throughout Utah to double their output of exports from 2009, with a goal of reaching $20 billion by 2014. Last year, President Barack Obama issued the National Export Initiative calling on U.S. businesses to increase exports at least 15 percent annually — with the similar long-term goal of doubling foreign exports over the same time period.

Working to achieve the export goal will help Utah bolster its employment outlook, said Lew Cramer, president and chief executive officer of the World Trade Center of Utah.

"Exports create jobs … higher paying, longer lasting and higher skilled jobs," he told the commission.

"We have the mines in the west (of the valley) and the minds on the east side (with the University of Utah, Weber State and BYU)," Cramer said. "That's where our future growth opportunity is."

Education must be a key component of Utah's continued export growth, he explained.

He said that Utah is among the top five states nationally on a "per capita" basis for exports. He added that to build on the momentum of the state's export industry, Utah should focus on its strengths — high-tech, mining, agriculture and education.

"Long-term, we have to be educated and highly-skilled to provide competitive products to the rest of the world," Cramer said. 

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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