Perry Como doesn't live here any more.

Bolstered by Fortune magazine's trumpeting of the Salt Lake City-Ogden area as "best city for business," state officials and politicians all but forgot national media characterizations like the one by the Los Angeles Times two years that portrayed Salt Lake City as a "Perry Como kind of place."The magazine, which will hit the newsstands next week, put the Salt Lake City-Ogden metropolitan area, which includes Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties, at the top of the list in its second annual survey of "The Best Cities for Business."

Do the Fortune article and other recent rankings show what Fortune writers describe as "a cowtown somewhere between Nevada and Colorado" emerging from the bush league to play with the big boys? Or, at the very least, is the place finally breaking old stereotypes or displacing what some see as no image at all?

Fred Rollins, district marketing director for Delta Air Lines, thinks so. He said the Fortune article only points out what many businesses have known for a long time: Salt Lake City is a major-league player.

Thayne Robson, director of state's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, agrees.

"We are able to play in the same league with Phoenix and Denver, but you have to remember we are one half the size of those cities. Not only does size makes a difference in football and basketball, but in commercial and economic development as well."

Discovering Salt Lake, Ogden

Many say some writers have finally sought to uncover what Utah is truly like. U.S. News & World Report recently named Salt Lake City as one of 16 emerging boom towns. Places Rated Almanac says the Salt Lake City-Ogden metro area is the 16th best place in the nation to live.

The Fortune article focused on the message Utah officials have been attempting to get out: Utah's labor force is among the best in America. The article also emphasizes that once people visit the area, they are pleasantly surprised.

Fred Ball, president of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the magazine's credibility helps boost the credibility of Utah's economic development pitch. Ball plans to order about 2,000 copies of the magazine to use in economic development activities.

"There is not enough money in Utah to buy that kind of advertising," Robson said of the Fortune cover story. "It will be of great value, and I hope we are as good as the article says we are."Fortune writer Antony J. Michels agrees that the ranking is likely to help give Salt Lake City an image nationally and internationally.

He admits he was skeptical at first when the results of a consulting relocation firm put Salt Lake City in the top 10. The firm's evaluators had been impressed by visits to the area.

"It surprised us that it came out on top. It didn't have much of an image nationally. The city didn't have a name for business. When you hear `Salt Lake City,' you think of Mormons and the middle of nowhere," Michels said.

The right stuff

For Michels, his editors and fellow writers, Salt Lake City offered what they believe businesses are looking for in the '90s: a steady supply of educated and motivated workers.

Utah's high birthrate, educational attainment - despite overcrowded classrooms and low teacher salaries - and work ethic all fit the bill. The state also scored another "A+" for its efforts to welcome corporate newcomers. It was that fact that helped Salt Lake City edge out No. 2 St. Paul-Minneapolis.

But the single most important factor in the ranking was the Utah work ethic, Michels said. He also admitted, to local labor leaders' chagrin, that the state's comparatively low wages helped the Salt Lake City-Ogden metropolitan area edge out other contenders.

They also weighed quality of life factors, but not as heavily as last year, when Dallas-Fort Worth was ranked No. 1 and Salt Lake City was given honorable mention status. The magazine said it found some wonderful surprises underneath a boring and conservative surface.

"For one thing the baby boom never stopped here. That's because Mormons, who make half the metro area's population of 1.1 million, keep on producing America's largest families. As a result, Utah's high school graduation will increase in number through the year 2000, when they should peak at 37,000, vs. 23,000 last year," the magazine reported.

"Cultural" deterrents

Michels believes Salt Lake City will be more attractive to businesses that want to start up here and hire locals than to those companies that want to relocate.

There are, Michels said, deterrents to relocating employees in Utah, including the state's straight-laced image, although the magazine does point out recent changes in Utah's liquor laws that will make restaurant service similar to other states.

Michels said the article purposely doesn't make a big deal about Utah's culture; nor does it bring up other warts that have been favorites in critical national articles. In fact, it was Utah's high birthrate, sometimes characterized near that of Third-World countries, that was a big plus to Fortune writers.

Utah is expected to have a 6 percent population increase during the next five years, the magazine reported.

"We didn't find a fascist, oppressive state but found that it was a good place for employers," he said.

The magazine also liked Salt Lake City's highway system, airport, moderate taxes and triple A bond ratings for the state.

Salt Lake City and a lot of other newcomers ended up in the this year's Fortune top 10. Columbus, Sacramento, Austin, Jacksonville and Oklahoma City replaced cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York, The Bay Area and Pittsburgh.

In fact, no cities in the Northeast of Middle Atlantic regions ended up in the top 10. Inner city problems, such as crime and poor schools, may make mid-sized cities in the hinterlands more attractive for business, the magazine said.



Media ratings map rise of Salt Lake, Ogden

October 1990, Fortune magazine

With changed criteria emphasizing quality and availability of work force, Salt Lake City rose from an honorable mention "real comer" in 1989 to No. 1 in "The Best Cities for Business" survey.

August 1990, Money magazine

Salt Lake City-Ogden dropped from 20 to 182 in the "Best Place to Live Survey" conducted among readers.

November 1989, U.S. News & World Report

Salt Lake City listed among 16 of"America's New Boom Towns."

October 1989, Places Rated Almanac

Salt Lake City-Ogden ranked the 16th best place to live among 333 metropolitan areas.

1988, Los Angeles Times

Salt Lake City is a "Perry Como kind of place."