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Utah’s Manufacturing: Sharing Successes and Growth

Recently I accompanied our Director Carroll Thomas to the University of Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (UUMEP) open house announcing a new MEP center in Salt Lake City. After the open house we joined two roundtables, which validated how significant manufacturing is in Utah and how they successfully compete on a global scale.

Utah is recognized as a business friendly state by Forbes Magazine and CNBC, has a current unemployment rate of just over 3%, and a very strong and active Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The event drew close to 40 people from around the state and celebrated the thriving manufacturing community.

MEP Director Carroll Thomas speaks at the University of Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (UUMEP) open house.
Our first roundtable of state, regional and local stakeholders confirmed the vibrant economy in Utah and manufacturing as a key cog, but sometimes unnoticed in contrast to the strength of software and other service-based industries. Several people spoke about manufacturing becoming a viable employment opportunity, requiring higher technology skills and training and offering clean environments that are fun to work in – though not enough people know this.

Two company stories among several stood out during the second roundtable of industry representatives, including Liberty Safe and US Synthetic.

Liberty Safe is the largest remaining safe manufacturer in the U.S. and is based in Payson, Utah (most others have moved their manufacturing overseas). Kim Waddoups shared how Liberty Safe has invested $30M in technology over the last few decades, growing company revenues from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. This required expanding their workforce several times over to keep up with growing demand. Kim described how they continue to invest in R&D to expand their product designs and introducing new technologies into safes as a key to growth.

MEP Director Carroll Thomas joins a roundtable of industry representatives.

Another company that shared their perspective was US Synthetic in Orem, Utah, which manufactures polycrystalline diamond cutters (PDCs). They spoke about their evolving employment practices; in the face of low unemployment they have a waiting list of potential employees. A key strategy for them is to make the company a great place to work by implementing thousands of new ideas every year from employees and investing in and adopting new process and product technologies that require smarts, skill and training, which keep the job interesting for employees and results in low turnover.

The UUMEP approach is well suited to support this type of manufacturer success in Utah. In addition to aiding operational excellence, UUMEP is networked into the University of Utah to access applied research for companies, specialized laboratories and facilities as well as workforce development programs. They, as can all other MEP Centers, leverage many great facilities on campuses for forward thinking firms like Liberty Safe and US Synthetic. Contact your local MEP Center for assistance if you are interested in developing your own success story.

About the author

Tab Wilkins

Tab Wilkins is Regional Manager for Strategic Transition and Senior Technology Advisor at NIST MEP, primarily supporting Centers in the western US. Prior to joining NIST, Tab helped establish and run two MEP centers and has a varied background in non-profit management, leadership development and technology-based Economic Development.

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Great report out Tab because when the nation thinks of manufacturing, states like Utah are not on the radar. Thanks for highlighting Utah's value to this critical sector.
My pleasure Bernadine - we learned a lot about the strong manufacturing base there - a real asset in Utah and looking forward to supporting the work.

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