A Diversified Approach: Spreading economic success to all Utah communities

Utah has been ranked No. 1 on the Forbes Best State for Business and Careers list six out of the last seven years. While it is true Utah is doing well overall economically, some rural areas like the Uintah Basin are struggling.

Many companies in the Uintah Basin are reliant on the energy sector, which is known for its cyclical booms and busts. The pleasure most Utah residents get from filling up their cars at the gas pump for less than $2.50 a gallon is a stark contrast to the stress these prices are putting on Uintah Basin residents. The unemployment rate in Uintah County is at 10.2 percent, more than double the 4 percent average unemployment rate in Utah.

So while the Wasatch Front is growing and Silicon Slopes is booming, some rural areas like the Uintah Basin are feeling left out. How can this problem be remedied? The first step is to diversify both what is produced in these areas and their customer base to prevent the economic success of the region from being tied to any one industry.

Changing the mindset

World Trade Center Utah (WTC Utah), in conjunction with the Department of Workforce Services and the Vernal and Duchesne Chambers of Commerce, hosted the Business Innovation Summit of Eastern Utah on Nov. 3 to help companies in the area learn how to diversify and expand to international markets. The event focused on innovation and showcased companies that are revising strategies or pivoting to succeed in a global economy.

Education is key to helping these companies adapt and survive. This business innovation summit is just one of the ways WTC Utah is working to help buoy up the area. A lot of the small companies in the Uintah Basin have not even expanded to the Wasatch Front, so an international expansion can be daunting. The purpose of rural outreach efforts is to demystify the expansion process and connect companies to resources that can help them grow right now.

Innovation focused

One of the rural companies WTC Utah has worked with is Superior Drilling Products, Inc. (SDPI). Troy Meier founded Superior Drilling Products in Vernal in 1993 as a drill bit repair company. Throughout the years, the company has undergone many changes and adjusted its strategy to meet demand. In 2014 SDPI purchased Hard Rock Solutions, Inc. and became a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Superior Drilling Products evolved to become more than just a repair company. Over time the owners began to design and manufacture new drill bits in house. Superior Drilling Products is known for its patented Drill-n-Ream tool, which conditions vertical and lateral well bores while drilling. The tool’s dual operation of conditioning and drilling saves both time and money.

Superior Drilling Products is an important example because of its continued innovation and adaptability. One of its latest undertakings is to explore international expansion. The company is looking into opportunities to go global and, working with WTC Utah, will do so when the time is right.

Two other companies that are evolving to combat economic difficulties are Shamrock Mines, the recipient of the Vanguard in International Business Award at the Eastern Business Innovation Summit, and Duchesne based Three P/O, Inc.

Located in Hanna, Utah, Shamrock Mining produces a unique honeycomb-onyx stone that is exported to Taiwan, China, Canada, Mexico and Italy. Similar to marble and travertine in strength, honeycomb onyx is a versatile stone used for counter tops, wall tiles and other architectural applications. Shamrock Mining LLC’s exports grew to represent an impressive 35 percent of the total business in 2016.

Preparation and timing are important components in taking products to international markets. Three P/O, Inc., a creator of safety and performance enhancing products for boat propellers, met with the WTC Utah trade services team a little over a year ago to discuss international expansion opportunities. Around the same time discussions were taking place in Germany about passing legislation requiring boats to have a propeller guard on them. WTC Utah advised Three P/O to utilize this new regulation as an opportunity to get into the European market early and position itself as an industry leader. The company has since ramped up its trade show presence and is garnering international attention.

The future

It is important to celebrate the accolades and recognition Utah is receiving for its economic success, but it is also important to remember there is still work to be done to ensure the whole state benefits. Partnered with the Vernal Chamber, Duchesne County Chamber of Commerce, county commissioners, elected official and economic development agencies, World Trade Center Utah hopes to make a positive impact to rural economies by helping them expand globally.

While many companies around the state may be struggling, Superior Drilling Products, Shamrock Mines and Three P/O Inc. show that being innovative and adaptable can help businesses survive in difficult circumstances. Opportunities exist; companies just need to look beyond state or U.S. borders to find them.

Worldview-Derek-MillerDerek B. Miller is president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, an organization dedicated to helping Utah companies think, act and succeed globally.