Community leaders and business executives jumped for joy when Fortune Magazine named the Salt Lake City/Ogden area the nation's best location for business.
After all, it's been a decadeslong, uphill battle selling the state as a viable "enterprise zone."So does one national magazine's cover story really mean Utah is the place for huge corporations to expand, locate, or relocate?
To paraphrase only slightly, the answer seems to be, "You bet!" from corporate officials who've made the move. But those who chose another site may offer equally useful insights.
"The quality and quantity of the labor force here is what convinced us to move," Fidelity Investments Vice President Tom Lawrie said.
The company employs 520 workers and operates a 24-hour, 80,000-square-foot office in downtown Salt Lake.
Lawrie said when Fidelity was looking in 1986 for a place to open a new Western U.S. center, Salt Lake City stood out.
"I know we considered Denver, Carson City, Nev., and a couple of places in California," he said. "There were favorable real estate costs in Salt Lake; and we didn't like the tax structure in California."
Sixty-seven companies looking to expand or relocate visited Utah last year. Of those, 22 made a decision. Thirteen choose the Beehive State. Among those coming or already here are Discover Card, Marriott Guest Services and Thiokol Corp. Thousands of new jobs for Utahns will be created by the moves.
All well and good.
But what about the nine companies that turned thumbs down?
As most anyone involved in economic development will tell you, wooing corporations to a city is a venture full of complicated nuances.
"The key in this business is being able to figure out the unspoken problems a corporation may have with locating here," Utah Economic Development Corp. President Rick Thrasher said.
Unfortunately for Utah imagemakers and developers, companies don't often offer a detailed list of why they went somewhere else.
"Most of the companies (who have not located in the area) tell us we were a close second," Thrasher said.
American Airlines, for example, looked long and hard at Salt Lake for a new reservation center that would have employed 1,000 people. It chose Tucson, Ariz., instead.
American spokesman Tim Smith said it was a close call.
"Salt Lake was an excellent location; you could have thrown a blanket over the three cities we considered finalists, and any one of them would have worked out."
He said American went to Tucson because city government officials made it hard to turn down.
"We had a total level of cooperation; obstacles just disappeared," Smith said. "Even the community college promised to provide training for our employees."
Smith said other factors that may have veered the airline company to Tucson include: a bilingual work force and a climate similar to Los Angeles - from which 300 corporate officials will be transferring.
Another huge company, Dowty Group PLC, was one of the nine that went elsewhere. The corporation, located in England, is the largest manufacturer of airplane landing-gear parts in the world. It considered Salt Lake City for a U.S. plant but instead located the huge factory in Canada.
A partner in the firm that researched possible locations for Dowty Group PLC said Salt Lake competed well.
"I was extremely impressed with the city," Stuart Gross said. "We'll definitely bring other clients to the area."
Gross works for GA/Partners, a corporate search division of Arthur Anderson Corp. based in Washington, D.C.
Canada offered Dowty Group PLC free land and even assistance in building their factory, Gross said.
"That's very difficult to overcome," he said. "Those kind of incentives aren't available anywhere in America."