Utah officials moved faster than their Nevada counterparts in offering the economic incentives that enticed a rocket fuel component plant away from Henderson, Nev., to a remote site near Cedar City.
"It is fair to say that Utah was more forthcoming than anyone else," said Keith Rooker, executive vice president and general counsel for Las Vegas-based Pacific Engineering and Production Co. "Utah pursued it very effectively, very aggressively and, obviously, very successfully."PEPCON executives were careful not to criticize Nevada officials during a Wednesday press conference in Salt Lake City announcing the move. However, Rooker praised Utah's state and local officials for showing their support for the $23 million project.
The plant will be built about 15 miles northwest of Cedar City on 4,800 acres of ranch land purchased by PEPCON. Initially, it is expected to employ 70 workers, including at least 15 who will transfer from Nevada. Eventually, the work force may expand to 150.
State lawmakers met in special session a week ago to change the law so up to $33 million in bonds could be issued by the state for the new plant. And Iron County officials have made special arrangements for building inspections to speed construction.
Their counterparts in Nevada, especially at the local level, have not shown nearly as much enthusiasm for the plant. PEPCON had also considered rebuilding at two remote sites in Clark County, far away from the state's most populous city, Las Vegas.
The plant had been located for years in the nearby industrial community of Henderson until a May 4 explosion leveled the buildings and killed two workers while injuring more than 350 others and shook buildings in Las Vegas.
One Nevada economic development official said that there is a "heightened sensitivity" among Clark County officials and suggested it was not politically realistic to believe they would support rebuilding it there.
Iron County Commissioner Jim Robinson agreed that Nevada did not pursue the plant as actively as he and other Utahns did. "After their experience, they may have been thinking, `This may be one we don't want,' " Robinson said.
What Utah got was a portion of the company's ammonium perchlorate manufacturing operation, one of only two in the United States. The chemical is the oxidizer in the solid rocket fuel used in the space shuttle and a variety of weapons.
Both Morton Thiokol and Hercules require a steady supply of the chemical. In fact, the two Utah companies have warned that layoffs are imminent unless PEPCON is back in production by early next year.
The Utah plant, which is expected to be completed by Feb. 1, will produce the ammonium perchlorate with another chemical that will be manufactured in Southern Nevada. The company has not yet selected a site for the new Nevada plant, which will employ between 15 and 20 workers.
Rep. Haze Hunter, R-Cedar City, said that while they would have preferred having the entire operation, even part of the plant would help boost the area's depressed economy.
Hunter and other supporters of the plant have said that it will help attract new industry to help replace the jobs lost when the area's iron mines closed more than a half-dozen years ago.
"We consider this a breakthrough," said Robinson.
Rooker, who heads the real estate arm of PEPCON's parent company, American Pacific Corp., has said that the company may develop an industrial park on part of the Iron County property.
Robinson said the plant will help shift the economy from its dependence on tourism and Southern Utah State College. He would not, however, predict that manufacturing would overtake that portion of the economy.
Robinson said he has not heard any concern expressed about plant safety.