September 1, 2008

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Best of Business

Spencer Dixon

September 1, 2008

Real estate’s slipping, job growth is down, but hey, Utah is still winning awards right and left so we’re still celebrating. Join us in taking a glimpse at some of the most memorable moments in business during the past year. Best Excuse to Demolish Something Sometimes to create, you must destroy, at least as proven true by last year’s implosion of the Key Bank Tower to make way for the forthcoming City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City. And when you can destroy with the expertise of a company called Controlled Demolition, Inc., so much the better. The D.C.-based firm, whose mission statement must be “We Cure Eyesores,” returned to town for the first time since ridding Salt Lake of the Hotel Newhouse in 1983. And they stayed true to their name; by all accounts, the implosion went off without a hitch (go to YouTube to see for yourself). Nine blasts were all it took to reduce the 27-year-old, 20-story tower to 40 feet of rubble in a matter of seconds. A brisk breeze finished off the - show, getting rid of some of the dust, and suggesting, perhaps, that this was meant to be. Aside from rogue base jumpers (is there any other kind?), it’s hard to find too many people who will miss the tower. Hopefully, by the time the City Creek Center is finished, all the commotion will have been worth it. Best Guilty Pleasure We all love stories of homegrown businesses making good. But not all companies doing business in Utah are local, and that’s OK. Sometimes, big, faceless corporations can bring good news—and big jobs—to the state. And sometimes, they just add a little sweetness after a hard day’s work. That’s what The Cheesecake Factory started doing when it opened in Murray last October. The chain has proven quite popular in Utah, as attested by the extra long wait times to score a table. Maybe it has something to do with our collective sweet tooth. After all, the Factory offers 31 types of cheesecake along with approximately 18 menu pages of appetizers, entrees, sandwiches and salads. You might check it out if you have several hours to kill. Elsewhere, Procter & Gamble and cosmetics company Sephora are coming to Utah and bringing hundreds of jobs with them. In May, P&G broke ground on its new Box Elder plant, which will produce Charmin and Bounty products. The plant will open in 2010 and support 300 jobs and during the next 20 years, that figure could triple. Sephora’s distribution center will open later this year and is expected to bring 500 jobs. Give us a few years, then, and we’ll probably be the tidiest, most well groomed state in the nation. Best Snow on Earth These days, down is up and up is down. That is, the things you want to be up, like the economy and June temperatures, are down. And the things you want to be down? We’ll get to those later. There is one thing, however, that’s definitely up, and Utahns are glad about it: snow pack totals (which may have something to do with the frigid first weeks of June). For the fifth straight year, Utah’s ski resorts set a record for number of skier days—this year reaching roughly 4.25 million. Those days translate into a big boost to the economy. Ski Utah reports that the skiing and snowboard industry generated an estimated $1.04 billion during the 2007-08 winter season. Here’s hoping the trend continues this winter, we need some good news around here. Best seat in the house For sheer spectacle, there’s no place quite like a Jazz game to take your clients. It’s a phantasmagorical feast for the senses. On a given night, you can enjoy thumping German techno music, a revving motorcycle (complete with requisite exhaust), fireworks, daredevil dunking acrobats, dancing girls and a guy whose name is Boozer. (Somehow, “Carlos Teetotaler” just doesn’t have the same ring.) Oh, and there’s also a bear. Threatening to be overshadowed by it all is a little thing called basketball. You may have noticed—the Jazz are good. Really good. Last season, the old pick-and-roll Jazz averaged more points per game than all but four teams in the NBA. Basketball in Utah is fun again, and now is the time to take advantage. The Jazz may not get back to the NBA Finals in the next few years, but you can still score points with your clients 41 times a year. And if you’re close enough to the court, you can even have fun reading the players’ tattoos: What the heck are “Noguts”? Best perspective Things could be worse. You could live in Arizona or Nevada. Or, perish the thought, California or Florida. Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against these fine locations, but now is simply not a good time to be a homeowner in these states. In fact, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, these four states account for 89 percent (!) of the country’s foreclosures in the first quarter of 2008. Things are a bit better for Utahns. The same report ranked Utah 41st in the country for loan delinquencies and 45th in foreclosure inventory. And according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, Utah’s housing situation is healthy when compared to other states. Home prices in the state are holding relatively steady, thanks to a strong employment market. So, provided you have the means, the American Dream is still alive and well. Best scene for Preteens Another year, another High School Musical. Whatever you think of the movies themselves, the wholesome-looking actors or their off-screen indiscretions, you probably can’t scoff at the projected $13 million the production brought to Utah—not to mention a bunch of jobs and some free national exposure. A lot of us are probably wishing we were East High School students about now. It must have been fun to rub shoulders with stars of the small screen. I’ll bet we wouldn’t have been distracted at school during the production’s filming! And I’m sure those East High kids weren’t, either. That’s one focused bunch. Of course, the idea of Utah being a Hollywood set is old hat by how. And yet, it never seems to get old, which is why GOED (Governor’s Office of Economic Development) offers handsome incentives for productions filmed here. We Utahns love the national spotlight, and it’s been kind to us this year. In addition to High School Musical and other productions, Utah’s own David Archuleta made quite the showing on American Idol. (Now, if we can only convince the kid to stay in school.) Whether these sorts of things bring personal validation to you or not, at least they’re good for the economy. One More Motive to Telecommute I’m going to apologize in advance for yet another reminder about rising gas prices. Everyone has their own “I remember when gas cost [insert ridiculously low amount here]!” stories. (Remember when it cost $2.50 a gallon? Those were the days…) But while it’s nice to dwell on those wistful memories for a moment, reality is inescapable: according to the energy department, gas has peaked at $4.15 a gallon, and things aren’t looking better for next year or the year after that. So what are you going to do about it? Get a gas-sipping scooter and risk life and limb every time you get behind the handlebars? Start haunting local greasy spoons with large vats and scrapers? Drop thousands on a car that runs on natural gas? Stop leaving the house altogether? Hey—no risk, no reward. Best motive to stay grounded Are you noticing a trend here? High oil prices affect … just about everything, including air travel. After reporting a combined $10.5 billion first quarter loss—and blaming it on fuel costs—Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines did what they’ve been threatening to do for years by announcing plans to merge in April. Then their CEOs addressed a skeptical Congress in hopes of convincing them that the merger is a good idea. The pact will make the airlines more competitive with foreign carriers, they said. No hubs will be closed, they assured. Oh, hey, and they’ll be better equipped to handle foreign oil prices, too! They’ll save billions! But what about the consumers? Who’s stumping on Capitol Hill for us? Certainly not CEOs at Amtrak and Greyhound, who must be all but pulling out their pom-poms and cheering for these guys. After all, fewer airline choices means we’re closer to a monopoly, higher fares and … travel by train and bus. In Utah, the concern is that flights will be cut because the two airlines have over-lapping routes here. The implications of what that could do to the economy are, at best, troubling. For now, the deal is still going through the approval process. If it gets approved, and the “NWA” lettering on plans somehow gets changed to “NWO,” maybe it’s time to move to Canada—and travel by horse and buggy. Best Rationale for Government to Take a Hike Sometimes experiments fail. Even ideas that sound good at first can turn out to be fundamentally flawed. Case in point: the saga of iProvo, Provo City’s own Fiber to Home Service. The network’s history is littered with a litany of phrases—true or not—that tell its troubled tale as well as a comprehensive report ever could: “charges of unfair competition with the private sector,” “conflict of interest,” “hemorrhaging money” and “no break-even point in sight.” Oh my. Maybe Provo’s failure to pull off a venture like this will be a lesson to governments everywhere: let the private sector do its thing. In the case of iProvo, that “thing” will apparently be done by Lehi’s Broadweave Networks, which purchased the network in June for $40.6 million with the help of a Provo city-financed loan. News of the sale, which was criticized by many who felt the RFP was unclear, brought about more bandying of unsavory phrases: “disingenuous,” “fear mongering,” “monopoly” and “possibly illegal.” Despite what the sale’s detractors may think, it looks like iProvo is Broadweave’s problem now. I say, “good luck” and, hopefully, “lesson learned.” Best Incentive to Move to Vernal . . . Really Ultramodern high rises. A thriving tourism industry. High-profile golf and tennis tournaments. Eight hundred million barrels of oil. Welcome to Dubai—I mean, Vernal. It’s not so far-fetched, is it? After all, there’s more oil underground in eastern Utah than all of Saudi Arabia—shale oil, that is. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get drilling! But, hold on a minute, we’ve known about this for decades, haven’t we? And it’s pretty much impossible to make extracting oil from shale economically and environmentally feasible, right? Not so fast. None other than George W. Bush believes that oil shale is a potential solution to the country’s dependence on foreign oil. In fact, he’s urging Congress to lift a ban on oil shale leasing on federal lands. And now that oil is going for $140 a barrel, can you really blame him? As for the feasibility of harvesting all this oil, a Brazilian company says it can be ready to start churning out the stuff by 2013. Quick—there’s still time to get in on some prime land within driving distance of Dinosaurland. Best Excuse to Gloat On second thought, maybe it’s not wise to gloat during these troubled times. But thankfully we have reasons for optimism. Let’s review some our reasons to keep our collective chin up: Our ski slopes are hosting more skiers and snowboarders than ever before, justifying our claim to the Greatest Snow on Earth. David Archuleta. Our mortgage situation isn’t nearly as dire as that of many parts of the country, due to our relatively strong economy. Eight hundred new jobs are coming to the state in the near future, thanks to Procter & Gamble and Sephora. The Jazz are a championship contender again. David Archuleta. All things considered, the last 12 months have been pretty alright. Here’s hoping things will look even better this time next year.
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