The employees of Powder River Enterprises came out the winners at the company's 50th anniversary party Friday. Not only did they get a free lunch, they were praised as the best work force ever by business and government officials.

Gov. Norm Bangerter said, "Agriculture is a major factor in the economy of the state of Utah, and we owe much more to those that make it possible. The employees in America work harder and give more for a day's pay than anywhere else."Thomas Poague, owner of Powder River, said, "The employees here are more work-minded than any other group I've worked with. We've got a nice family here."

The company, in operation since 1938, is known for manufacturing livestock-handling equipment. Powder River also manufactures material-handling storage systems for warehouses throughout the country.

The company is originally from Baker, Ore., but in 1961 it was moved to Provo.

Mayor Joe Jenkins said, "We talk about economic development all the time because it means jobs. Powder River has given us a work ethic and good jobs and we are proud to have it in the city."

The company employs almost 200 people.

According to Richard Bradford, executive director of the Utah Valley Economic Development Association, Powder River "has been a good steady employer for more than 28 years and has brought money in to Utah Valley as it sells products throughout the country and world."

Last year, Powder River manufactured 25 million pounds of steel and had 50 truckloads of material coming and going every week, Poague said.

Poague owns several manufacturing plants throughout the country and bought Powder River three years ago to add to his assets. He has added production lines to the plant and hopes to experience a 38- to 40-percent growth rate in the next few years.

Booth Wallentine, the executive vice president of Utah Farm Bureau, congratulated the company on its 50th birthday and its contribution to Utah's livestock industry. He said agriculture is one of the largest industries in the state and that the largest part of that is in livestock.