During and shortly after the World War II, the federal government spent billions of dollars nationally on manufacturing facilities and scientific research, and much was spent in Utah. Probably the biggest federal government investment in manufacturing in the state was the building of Geneva Steel Works in Utah County. This $200 million project permanently altered Utah’s manufacturing structure. No private investor would have risked such a large investment in a steel plant so far from its markets. However, the federal government felt it necessary to have a steel plant away from the coasts and therefore less likely to be a target of enemy attack.
Once it was built and functioning, it seemed logical to keep Geneva operating. Utah is the only western state with deposits of both iron ore and coking coal. Under the ownership of U.S. Steel Corporation, Geneva became a major employer in the state. Equally important, many related industries such as steel fabrication developed into large employers because of Geneva’s presence. However, in 1985, USX Corporation closed the plant. Shortly after, it was sold to local Utah businessmen and reopened. The plant is again a major Utah employer with 2,400 on the payroll and hundreds more employed in companies whose work is directly linked to Geneva’s steel production. Despite the successful reopening of the large plant, iron and steel manufacturing employment in Utah is declining as a percentage of total manufacturing employment in the state. In 1950 primary metals manufacturing represented 29 percent of all manufacturing employment; in 1989 primary metals industries employed only 6 percent of manufacturing employees.
Steel manufacturing was not the only industry the federal government helped get established in Utah. During the second decade after World War II, another major industry began developing–defense manufacturing. In 1956, Sperry Rand Corporation (now Unisys) came to Utah to build missiles. Two years later, Thiokol Corporation located a plant west of Brigham City to build solid fuel propellants for the Minuteman missiles. Hercules Corporation became another large defense contractor. This company was established in Utah in 1914, and produced blasting powder for mining. In 1958 they entered the aerospace industry by producing rocket engines. These three companies currently employ over 13,000 people (Thiokol 7,000, Hercules and Unysis 3,000 each).
Another example of the growth of the aerospace industry is the coming of McDonnell-Douglas to Utah in 1987. One of the two giant airplane manufacturers in the United States, McDonnell-Douglas employs about 600 people in Utah and produces parts here for the company’s airplanes.
Computer software and electronics are other recent growth industries in the state. Examples of software manufacturing are Novell and WordPerfect corporations. Founded in 1983, Novell has become an industry leader in designing computer software “local area network” or LAN systems, and by 1991, the company employed about 1,200 people. Novell and WordPerfect merged in 1994.
The rise of these new post-World War II “durable goods” industries dramatically restructured the state’s manufacturing sector. In 1950 the durable goods industries employed about 48 percent of all people in manufacturing. By 1989 durable goods employment amounted to 67 percent of total manufacturing employment numbers. Transportation manufacturing (including aerospace) grew from 1 percent of the total manufacturing employment in 1950 to just over 25 percent by 1989.
By comparison, the broad category of nondurable goods has shown a significant decline. Food canning and kindred products had been a mainstay of Utah manufacturing from pioneer days. In 1950 this industry had employed almost 30 percent of all manufacturing employees; by 1988 it employed only 11 percent.
In summary, Utah’s natural resources and the Mormon pioneer desire to be self-sufficient were key factors in the early history of manufacturing. As a result, early manufacturing centered around industries that served the resident population. Slaughterhouses, iron works, mills, canneries and creameries, as well as textile and furniture manufacturing were all significant employers. World War II had a profound affect on manufacturing in Utah. As a result of this great conflict, new industries were developed. The two most important were defense contracting (especially aerospace) and steel manufacturing. A third modern manufacturing industry that has developed in the decades after the war is the electronics/computer field, which has become important to Utah since the 1960s.