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Utah manufacturing strong

S.L. ranks 15th in U.S. in the number of firms

Utah's manufacturing sector continues to show strength, especially in Salt Lake City, which is ranked 15th in the country in the number of manufacturing companies and 20th for manufacturing employment.

Statistics from the 2008 Utah Manufacturers Directory, an industrial guide published by Manufacturers' News Inc., indicate Salt Lake City has 1,329 manufacturing companies employing 54,772 people. It's a far cry from No. 1 Houston, with 4,157 companies and 225,319 employees, but its company figure is just below that of Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Brooklyn. Salt Lake's figures rank far ahead of Detroit in both the company and employment rankings.

Only Houston, Chicago and New York have more than 2,000 manufacturing companies. Only Houston, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles top 100,000 manufacturing workers.

Salt Lake's employment figure beats those of Denver, Miami and Brooklyn.

Tom Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, was not surprised by the city's ranking.

"Utah is a state of small manufacturers," he said. "The average manufacturer has fewer than 50 employees, so that helps answer it as far as the (company) numbers are concerned. And its important kinds of manufacturers who are generally making component parts for other manufacturers.

"You need to understand that much of the country has continued to decline in manufacturing since even after the recession ended. Utah has not. We have continued to grow, and we are pleased with that, obviously."

Manufacturers' News said Salt Lake City accounts for 29.2 percent of Utah's manufacturers and one-third of its industrial jobs. Utah, it said, has 4,458 manufacturers with 163,351 workers.

The city's printing and publishing industry accounts for 6,752 jobs, or nearly half of the state's 13,723 printing and publishing jobs. Salt Lake City's food sector has 5,180 industrial jobs, or 27 percent of Utah's food-related industrial employment. Makers of communications equipment employ 2,829 in the city. Business-form printers have 2,531 workers, and plastic product manufacturers have 1,902 employees.

"The state's natural resources and growing population have provided some immunity against the industrial job losses suffered by many other states," Tom Dubin, president of Illinois-based Manufacturers' News, said in a prepared statement.

"We are not a large-manufacturing state," Bingham said. "We don't have the GM and the Fords and the Caterpillars and those kinds of folks in the state of Utah that some of these others would have. But our small manufactures are doing well."

Bingham said that Utah is a hub for certain types of manufacturing, such as aerospace, medical devices and nutraceuticals.

"We have some natural advantages," he said. "Our economy is good right now, but also we have among the lowest energy rates in the nation. That's helpful. We also are among the lowest with some other HR kind of costs, like workers compensation and unemployment insurance.

"All those things help make Utah as a whole an attractive place. Quite frankly, we're seeing some folks moving here, especially from California, where the environment for business and manufacturing is not as favorable as it once was. We're a net benefactor of those kinds of things."

And Utah's diversified manufacturing sector insulates it from trouble such as that seen in Michigan, where manufacturers supplying the auto industry are in lean times, he said.

"Even in a recessionary period, some of our manufactures, like medical device manufacturers, didn't even feel it because what they were making was something that continues," Bingham said. "People were still having surgeries whether the economy is off or not. They did not have a downturn. But if you were building equipment and machinery for somebody else, you would have had some trouble. Diversification is healthy for our manufacturing economy."

Manufacturers' News Inc. has published manufacturers' directories since 1912 and has compiled and produced manufacturing guides, statistics and databases for all 50 states.