When Jim Durham resolved to move his machine shop out of Southern California, where the cost of doing business had gone through the roof, he took a hard look at five Western states.
Only Utah had it all - motivated workers, a reasonable cost of living, a railroad hub, an international airport and interstate freeways to every direction."Every state has pros and cons. There were more pros here than cons," Durham said.
Fortune magazine last year picked the Salt Lake City-Ogden metropolitan area as the nation's best for business, while U.S. News & World Report called the capital city an emerging boom town.
That doesn't mean Utah's populous Wasatch Front is immune to urban woes. Planners struggle with snarled traffic and air pollution. School classrooms are notoriously crowded and each year brings a new round of public programs that go underfunded.
But four months after moving his AMS Machine Products Inc. to Clearfield, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, Durham figures he's saving up to 35 percent on operating costs over his former location in Anaheim.
The cost of living is one of many reasons companies like AMS Machine Products are moving to Utah, state economic developers say. There also are cheaper utilities, state and local tax breaks, inexpensive or even free land.
Durham had employed about 30 people in California. He has 14 workers now but hopes to hire more, and there's plenty of room. For the same rent, he quadrupled his workspace to 27,000 square feet.
More importantly, insurance costs plummeted. An incredulous Durham said he paid $32,000 a year in California for workman's compensation premiums but just $5,000 in Utah.
"It's hard to understand. A machinist is a machinist. He can get hurt working here just as easily," he said.
Durham said experienced machinists will earn about the same wages, $15 to $20 an hour. Workers with fewer skills will make less than their California counterparts, but he estimates his payroll is about the same as before.