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Bonneville Production Center, the Salt Lake Coca-Cola manufacturing and bottling plant, launched a new high-speed canning line this week that is the first link in a $6 million expansion and modernization of the facility scheduled for completion this year.

On hand for the inaugural run of the production line was Peter Sutch, who will become chairman next month of John Swire & Sons Ltd., Swire Pacific Ltd. and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., all based in Hong Kong and all part of the global The Swire Group of companies headquartered in London.It was Sutch's first visit to the company's Utah holdings, part of a worldwide tour of operations prior to becoming chairman of the subsidiaries.

Also under the Swire umbrella is Swire Pacific Holdings Inc., based in Salt Lake City, which Swire spokesman Bill Garcia said has invested $120 million in the Intermountain area over the past 13 years. Swire Pacific is the holder of 11 Intermountain Coca-Cola franchises, including Utah's.

Swire, which has been in the Coca-Cola business in Hong Kong for many years, began expanding that segment of its business in the mid-1970s, buying the Utah Coca-Cola franchise in 1978 from the Felton family, which had owned it since the 1930s.

Today, Bonneville Production distributes into 11 Western states. It employs some 114 at its West Valley office. Another 200 work at the Salt Lake sales center.

"This is an initial phase of an overall modernization master plan that will take the Bonneville Production Center into the next century," said Kurt Fiedler, production manager.

He said the new canning line will produce 1,650 cans of soft drinks per minute or 27.5 cans per second, one of the fastest in the nation.

Garcia said the U.S. holdings of the far-flung Swire Group are all filled by local executives, allowing company profits to remain in the areas where they are generated. He said Swire chose Utah for its headquarters because of the state's well-educated work force, good business climate and high standard of living.

London-based Swire Group has worldwide interests in transportation, trading, manufacturing, engineering and insurance. The Group is concentrated mainly in the Far East and Australia but since the late 1970s has been expanding into the United States, Canada, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. The conglomerate has 70 subsidiary corporations, seven of which are publicly held.

The history of The Swire Group is long and fascinating. Its chairman is Sir Adrian Swire, the fifth generation of a family business begun by John Swire in Liverpool in 1816. The business passed to John's two sons upon his death in 1847 and was gradually expanded, the mainstay being importation of cotton from the American South - trade that was abruptly ended by the onset of the Civil War.

At that period, the brothers turned to China, then a newly emerging market for textiles and other imports. In 1867 the firm began business in Shanghai, taking the Chinese Hong name of Taikoo, meaning "great and ancient," a name by which it remains widely known today.

Expansion and diversification of the Group's holdings has continued since that time.