The national economy is in a downturn, but Utah's business-recruitment efforts apparently are immune.

Todd Brightwell, vice president of business development for the Economic Development Corp. of Utah, said this week that interest from out-of-state companies looking to put operations in Utah continues to be strong. The agency is contracted by the state to handle recruitment activities.

The agency handled 133 site visits to Utah during the past fiscal year, topping the 113 a year earlier. That compares with as little as 30 four years ago.

"We know the job growth is going to be down — we've seen those figures — but yet activity for us has gone up," Brightwell told the Governor's Office of Economic Development Board on Thursday.

Some of that increase in business-recruitment activity is relative to companies that are trying to determine if coming to Utah is the right move, he said. "Therefore, there is probably a lot of activity that may not turn into the results we're looking for in terms of closed deals. Yet still there appears to be a pressure out there that companies need to consider Western expansion to help their cost analysis to work."

Site visits, he said are important in helping Utah land an operation, he said. Economic-development officials have often said visits help dispel misconceptions about Utah and allow visitors to see first-hand the beauty of the state. "We believe that's a competitive advantage for us, if we can actually get them here," Brightwell said.

His agency has 255 "open projects," or possibilities for more economic development through recruitment. "That's a huge number," he said, noting that 80 to 100 are "churning activity on a regular basis."

Among recent site visits were a food-manufacturing company looking for a 50,000-square-foot facility; an alternative-energy manufacturing-related company with a potential for 50 to 100 jobs at a 50,000-square-foot facility in Tooele or Iron counties; and a call-center company with potentially 300 jobs for a 25,000-square-foot facility in northern Utah.

An information technology company is considering the Wasatch Front for headquarters, which would lead to 40 new jobs and 30 retained jobs at a 30,000-square-foot facility. A distribution/warehousing company is considering Utah for 100 jobs in a 40,000-square-foot space.

And an arts and entertainment company is considering a potential $32 million capital investment that could create 2,000 jobs for Wasatch or Salt Lake counties.

While the Economic Development Corp. had several "wins" during the past year in attracting or retaining 6,425 jobs, Brightwell acknowledged examples where companies were courted for Utah but eventually opted not to move operations to the Beehive State. Four projects, with a total of 1,100 jobs, were lost for a variety of reasons — from a company wanting to remain in California to another wanting the bigger labor pool that Phoenix offered.

GOED board Chairman Ragula Bhaskar asked Brightwell to get more information about the lost projects so that the state can determine if patterns exist that could be addressed in the future to help Utah's chances.

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