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Regional Report: Mountain States’ Economies Striving to Reach New Heights

The Mountain States are posting positive news on the jobs and business location and expansion front.

Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (Directory 2014)
The Mountain States are, for the most part, in a good spot on the jobs front. All but Nevada have unemployment rates below the national average, led by Utah and Wyoming at 4.6 percent and Montana at 5.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The region’s economy as a whole is growing at a rate similar to the nation’s, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Utah’s 2012 growth in gross domestic product was 3.4 percent, while Colorado and Montana each recorded growth of 2.1 percent. GDP growth in 2012 was 1.5 percent in Nevada, 0.4 percent in Idaho, and 0.2 percent in Wyoming.

Utah is leading the way on multiple fronts. A report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that “the state is becoming known as a professional services and finance center,” and Bloomberg Businessweek even suggested it’s on the way to becoming a “Wall Street of the West.” Meanwhile, Utah’s manufacturing sector enjoyed a slight increase in employment at the same time national manufacturing employment dropped by more than 20 percent. The state ranked third in overall economic performance, and was the only state in the nation that also made all of the U.S. Chamber’s other top 10 lists covering exports, innovation/entrepreneurship, the business climate, the talent pipeline, and infrastructure.

Business Locations and Expansions
With below-average jobless rates, the Mountain States clearly are benefiting from business locations and expansions. For example, Pepperidge Farm is investing $45 million to grow its plant in Utah, where it makes Goldfish and other snack foods. The food industry has taken a liking to Idaho, as well. Portugal-based Frulact Group is opening its first U.S. fruit-preparation plant there, and California-based Clif Bar will build a 300,000-square-foot bakery in Twin Falls.

Barclays Services is investing $10 million in Nevada and creating 930 jobs over a four-year period, while Kareo Inc. plans to create more than 400 IT jobs in that same period, according to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Ardagh Metal Packaging USA also picked Nevada for a new manufacturing plant that means about 140 technical jobs in the next five years. And, the financial services industry is adding jobs in Denver. Digital wealth management company Personal Capital opened an advisory hub employing 100 people, while Fidelity Investments opened a customer contact center that could eventually provide up to 500 jobs. Meanwhile, a Xerox customer service and tech support center in Colorado Springs is creating 300 new jobs.

Initiatives in the Works
State governments in the region have an appetite for more positive economic news, and have a number of initiatives in the works to generate growth. For example, Colorado hopes to help its advanced industries target growing global markets with the new Advanced Industries Export Accelerator program; it includes export training, global consultants, and grants for international initiatives. Idaho, like a number of other states, has its eyes on the growing unmanned aircraft systems industry, and is ramping up efforts to attract drone business.

In 2013, Montana re-launched its public-private Innovate Montana program, which is geared toward sparking entrepreneurialism. The effort takes advantage of an already powerful force in the state — in fact, the Kauffman Foundation’s Index of Entrepreneurial Activity ranked the state tops in the nation, with 530 entrepreneurs for every 100,000 adults.

Numerous Accolades
Numerous other outside observers have heaped praise on the region. When the Building Owners and Managers Association International ranked the nation’s least costly markets for commercial real estate, Salt Lake City topped the list. The association tallied the operating expenses and found the cost in Salt Lake City to be $4.87 per square foot.

The most recent state economic outlook study from the American Legislative Exchange Council had Utah atop the list, and Wyoming placed fourth. Forbes, meanwhile, named Utah the third-best state for business and careers, and Colorado was fifth best. And four states in the region made the top 10 when the Tax Foundation ranked state business tax climate: Wyoming was first, Nevada third, Montana seventh, and Utah ninth.

Other accolades for the region came from Pollina Corporate Real Estate’s Top 10 Pro-Business States, which lists Utah at the top and Wyoming fifth. Also, CNBC’s ranking of America’s Top States for Business placed Utah fifth, Colorado seventh, Wyoming ninth, and Idaho 10th.
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