Strength in Numbers

Companies Thrive in Utah’s Economic Clusters

Linda T. Kennedy

March 1, 2011

Besides having a tech-savvy workforce, Utah is rich in natural traditional resources such as oil, gas and coal, and also has abundant access to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal. Wind power plants in the state have a generating capacity of up to 224 MW. Furthermore, geothermal sources have been producing power for Utahns for 30 years, and Utah companies continue to make exciting breakthroughs in geothermal technologies. Solar energy is being utilized to power rural fuel production sites and is showing great potential to extend to other operations.

Research and development efforts in alternative energy focusing on unconventional fuels and energy efficiency, practices of lean manufacturing, corporate recycling and energy use conservation have brought recognition to our State.             

Energy and Natural Resources Cluster Director Samantha Mary Julian coordinates with the State Energy Program to promote and expand Utah’s energy sector. She also facilitates the state’s Energy Working Group. Participants include the State Energy Program, Governor’s Energy Advisor, Department of Workforce Services, USTAR, Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Facilities Construction & Management, EDCUtah, Utah Clean Energy and the Department of Agriculture and Food. GOED held the State’s first renewable energy summit last year and it was attended by companies and interested parties from 17 states. 

The Energy Working Group discusses matters of federal funding opportunities and also focuses on creating efficiency and synergy between the various participants. “It is really focused on collaboration efforts and learning awareness. Group meetings provide an opportunity for agencies to become educated on what other agencies are actively working on. This collaboration allows us to move forward in harmony,” Julian says.

Utah has been recognized as a future leader in renewable energy resources, including geothermal, solar and wind. First Wind, for instance, selected Utah as the site of a large-scale wind farm that generates 203.5 megawatts of energy. The wind farm is in its second phase of development, with a third phase already in the pipeline.

Gov. Gary R. Herbert has implemented The Utah Energy Initiative, a 10-year plan to ensure Utah’s continued access to its own low-cost energy resources and its ability to be on the cutting edge of new energy technologies. “We are uniquely positioned in the Western Energy Corridor,” said Governor Herbert in his 2010 State of the State address. “We have the generation capacity and the transmission systems, and we are at the crossroads of the energy commerce and transportation infrastructure.”

Defense and Homeland Security

Including defense contractors, military members and federal employees, the Defense and Homeland Security sector employs more than 38,000 Utahns. Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) is the largest single-site employer, with almost 23,500 employees working on the base every day, and is a hotbed for the local industries’ accomplishments.

"Because of the diverse technologies and activities that are required for Hill to accomplish its missions, there are many opportunities for innovative small companies and entrepreneurs to support Hill AFB,” says Marshall Wright, business development director at GOED, who assists with the defense and aerospace clusters. “Hill is very proactive in providing outreach seminars to reach the local entrepreneurs and small business community so that they can avail themselves of the various contracting opportunities." 

HAFB has been designated as a preferred base to house and maintain the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and it was selected as the logistics support activity for the Air Force’s Predator aircraft. Also, HAFB was awarded 350 additional software and engineering support positions.

The industry cluster also includes aircraft and missile maintenance, electronics and communications, autonomous systems, smart sensors and chemical/biological detection. Leading companies in the cluster include ATK, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, The Boeing Company, Raytheon, Booz Allen Hamilton, L-3 Communications and SAIC. 

A huge growth area for the state, though, is unmanned systems. HAFB recently gained recognition as the nation’s premier site to establish operations for unmanned systems’ development and evaluation, and the U.S. Army chose Dugway Proving Ground to locate its Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center (RIAC), which generated 200 new jobs. “More could be hired as some of the major unmanned aerial systems contractors locate divisions of their companies here to Utah to be close to and support the RIAC facility,” says Wright. “It’s a gift that keeps giving; what we’re going to see is more of the companies supporting RIAC locating in Tooele.”

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