Utah's imagemakers, politicians and business leaders said Fortune magazine made their day Wednesday when it announced its rankings for the best places in America to do business in the '90s - and Salt Lake City came out on top.

Employees at the Salt Lake City Area Chamber of Commerce heard a "whoop" coming from President Fred Ball's office Wednesday afternoon as he got his first glance at the article, which includes a cover photo of Salt Lake workers standing on the edge of the Great Salt Lake.The magazine summed up Salt Lake City's honor this way:

"Brace yourself for a surprising No. 1: Salt Lake City. What, the home of one Fortune-listed company (the Service 500's First Security)? That reputedly cloistered cowtown somewhere between Colorado and Nevada? Yes indeed."

"I'm ecstatic," Ball said. "They didn't make my day, they made my month." He said that Fortune's credibility will make the article an important economic development tool.

Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said, "It validates the things I believe about our community. It tells us we are going in the right direction." DePaulis is pictured in the article on a mountain above the city with a piece of straw in his mouth, wearing cowboy boots, jeans and a Western snap shirt.

Fortune picked Salt Lake City to head its list of top 10 business locations because of its availability of plentiful, high-quality and low-cost labor. A survey of CEOs, also included in the Oct. 22 edition, shows that the biggest issue facing business is the quality and availability of labor. Along with Utah workers' high literacy rate, high school graduation rates and productivity, the state's red-carpet treatment of corporate newcomers was cited by the magazine.

The fact that Utah's low-cost labor figured into the final result didn't go unnoticed by Utah AFL-CIO President Ed Mayne.

"I am disappointed but not surprised," he said.

Mayne said there is a need to change the image that the national magazine portrays in its survey.

"We need to attract business to Utah on the basis of productivity and a central location for them to market their products," he said.

The Fortune results came from the corporate relocation firm of Moran Stahl & Boyer, which surveyed human resource executives in the largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The firm and Fortune editors analyzed information that measures worker quality and availability. Hundreds of interviews and several visits to the cities helped Fortune rank the cities, according to Emma Dockendorff, Fortune director of public relations.

Fred Rollins, marketing chief for Delta Air Lines in Salt Lake City, was quoted by the magazine as saying: "People have a misperception that we're backward, that everyone wears wide-brimmed hats and we're out in the boonies, while in many ways we're very progressive."

The article cites the experience of Sears Discover Card, McDonnell Douglas and American Express Travelers Cheque Operations Center. All have moved to Utah in recent years.

The magazine reported Sears says it has overwhelmingly enthusiastic employees, McDonnell Douglas says math and reading skills are better here, and American Express said its employees are a model for productivity.

"The ideal labor market stands out in three ways: It has plenty of workers, they possess advanced skills and a strong work ethic, and local governments put forth gung-ho efforts to help corporate newcomers find and train the people they need. Salt Lake City gets an A+ in all three categories," the magazine said.

Fortune writer John Labate said Wednesday that while Salt Lake City was equalled or bettered by No. 2 St. Paul-Minneapolis in categories like student ACT scores, lack of labor market stress and quality of schools, Utah scored much better for its efforts to help new business, and that was important to Fortune editors.

Cited as an example by Fortune was the cooperative Custom Fit program that helps new companies train employees at local vocational centers and community colleges.

Another factor in Salt Lake City's ranking was its average yearly salaries, which were about $6,000 below those in the Twin Cities.

Officials were gloating as fax machines rushed copies of the article around Utah's capital city. The magazine won't be available on Utah newsstands until next week. Ball says he's ordering extra copies.

Officials at the offices of the State Department of Community and Economic Development Wednesday afternoon were busily drafting letters to send with copies of the magazine to large corporations officials have been trying to woo to the Beehive State.

Gov. Norm Bangerter said that while the article features Salt Lake City, he credited all of the Wasatch Front and state for the honor. He attributed all of the state's workers with characteristics the article describes.

"With this kind of notice, we hope to continue along these lines. It appears that the economy will allow that to happen," he said.

Stan Parrish, director of Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, said that he expects the magazine article to improve the state's efforts to snag foreign investment. Dockendorff agreed that such articles have had international impact. Of the magazine's 800,000 circulation, about 115,000 go to overseas readers.


(Additional information)

Fortune's top 10

1. Salt Lake City

2. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.

3. Atlanta, Ga.

4. Sacramento, Calif.

5. Austin, Texas

6. Columbus, Ohio

7. Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

8. Phoenix, Ariz.

9. Jacksonville, Fla.

10. Oklahoma City, Okla.