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Gold and silver help drive Utah’s export growth to new heights

SHARE Gold and silver help drive Utah’s export growth to new heights

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's booming export industry has pushed the Beehive State to the top of the nation's economic food chain.

Utah ranked second nationwide in total export growth, behind only Texas, according to a report, "Enterprising States 2012," released Wednesday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The report takes a comprehensive look at how states position themselves for economic growth and future investment.

In 2011, Utah exported nearly $19 billion in goods and commodities, more than triple the amount state producers sent abroad in 2005. Much of the growth can be attributed to the rising cost of gold and silver, key exports that makes Utah one of the fastest growing export markets in the country.

"We have grown our exports 37 percent compared to the previous year," said Elizabeth Goryunova, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the World Trade Center Utah. "We are well on the way to achieving the governor's goal."

Last year during his State of the State address, Gov. Gary Herbert challenged businesses throughout Utah to double their output of exports from 2009, with a goal of reaching $20 billion by 2014.

Utah is the only state in the nation to have doubled its volume of exports, according to the report. That translates directly into jobs.

John Downen, research analyst with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah, said the state exported a broad range of goods, including electronics, animal products, aircraft engines, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, sporting goods, and industrial goods, such as valves, drilling tools and fuses.

He said Utah's booming export industry is critical to the state's economy and has "definite significant impacts on employment" as well as overall production in numerous economic sectors.

"Almost 66,000 jobs are supported by export industries," Downen said.

Utah exported $13.8 billion in goods in 2010, with gold and silver accounting for more than half of the state’s exports by value at $7 billion. Excluding gold and silver, Utah’s international exports for 2010 were valued at almost $6.6 billion, according to USA Trade Online, the official source for U.S. Merchandise Trade Data created by the Foreign Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last year, Utah exported nearly $12 billion in gold and primary metals, $1.5 billion in semiconductors and components, $502 million in X-ray and medical devices, $353 million in food products and $211 million in aircraft parts.

The top destinations of Utah-produced goods in 2011 included the United Kingdom at $6.6 billion, China at $5 billion and Canada at $1.3 billion.

During the past five years, four of the top five Utah exports have increased, led by gold, which has seen its commodity price skyrocket during the recession. Gold traded for just more than $600 per ounce in January 2007, then peaked near $1,900 last August and was selling for about $1,617 per ounce Wednesday.

The state has increased its gold exports 132 percent since 2007. The state's major metals producer, Kennecott Utah Copper, said it would maintain its level of metals and mineral production into the foreseeable future.

“Kennecott is planning to make significant investments in extending the life of our operations in the coming years," said KUCC spokesperson Justin Jones. "These investments will allow us to continue being a major contributor to Utah’s economy well into the future.”

Excluding gold, the state’s largest export by value was computer memory, with $1.2 billion shipped abroad. Rounding out the top five were miscellaneous food preparations at $298 million, molybdenum at $279 million, civilian aircraft engines at $277 million and safety air bags at $201 million.

The report stated that those five commodities represented 35 percent of Utah’s exports — excluding gold and silver — in 2010.

According to the Enterprising States report, the strongest job growth is taking place in Utah, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.

"We very proud that we have an environment where businesses can grow," said Sophia DiCaro, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. The state expanded its technology economy by 14 percent during the past decade, she said.

"That is an economy that creates higher paying jobs," DiCaro said.

"We are paying attention to high-tech industries because that is our future," Goryunova added. "Basically (we are targeting) a knowledge-based economy. The more (high-tech products) we can produce … the more jobs we can create in Utah and the more exports we can achieve."

Among the other report findings: Utah was second in the nation in business birth rate and third in both short-term and long-term job growth.

For a look at the report, visit http://ncf.uschamber.com/library/enterprising-states.

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