How bad is employee turnover for South Jordan-based Merit Medical Systems Inc. in the Salt Lake Valley? Bad enough for the company to consider central Utah as a site for a new facility with hundreds of workers.

During the Rocky Mountain Economic Summit on Thursday, Fred Lampropoulos, the company's founder, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said Merit will turn to central Utah even as it continues to expand in South Jordan, Virginia, Texas and Ireland.

"For the first time, we're going to take a look at central Utah," Lampropoulos said. "You're the first to hear this, but I would expect that sometime in the next 12 to 18 months . . . I'll have a facility standing someplace in Sevier (or) Sanpete County — someplace there out in central Utah, which will allow me to hire (200, 300) or 400 people and have stability.

"I just don't have the stability here in the Salt Lake Valley, and I have to figure out how to solve that, and I think we're well on our way to putting a plan in place to do that."

The last time the company had such strong employee turnover was just before the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, he said.

"We can't find people to come to work for us, and the ones that are coming in, we're turning them over. We're paying $10 and $12 and had no increases in health-care costs to our employees the last four years — we've absorbed those — and yet we're turning over 25 percent of our work force four times a year," he said.

"So a little old-fashioned recession is kind of a wonderful thing for us. It kind of stabilizes and makes the work force available."

Lampropoulos said he loves Utah, and he wants to expand operations in the state. "But I'm going to expand in Texas and I'm going to expand in Richmond, Va., and I'm going to expand in Galway, Ireland . . . because I need to spread out the economic risk of the work force.

"There are good people here, if I can find them, and I've got a core that has been around a long time. But . . . the real challenge over the next 15 or 20 years and longer is, how do we really hire, train and retain?"

Jeff Thredgold, president of Thredgold Economic Associates, said Utah's high birth rate actually might be an economic strength for the state in coming years.

"From a tax incentive and financing education, a high birth rate is a negative, but . . . with a tight labor market down the road, when you have a state that has a very strong growth in population tied to the birth rate, that is going to be very, very attractive to attracting and retaining quality companies down the road," he said.

Lampropoulos said tight labor pools ultimately will lead to higher employee costs, and more companies will consider moving operations offshore as a way to address that problem.

"And you're going to see all kinds of things absolutely demonizing American businesses and American CEOs for the decision they have to make for their businesses to survive," he said.

Robert McDowell, vice president of information worker business value at Microsoft Corp., said that when companies offshore jobs, they are not looking for cheap labor but instead "qualified" labor.


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com