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Copper Mining Giving Businesses Here a Lift

July 31, 2008

By Gabriela Rico, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jul. 31–From donkeys and shovels to satellite imaging and environmental science, evolution in the mining industry has sparked growth in the companies that support the search for minerals.

And businesses that offer services to the mining industry are moving into Tucson or expanding operations here to meet the demands of renewed activity in the region.

Last year the state’s copper industry alone spent $2.4 billion on products and services used in the search for and production of copper and its byproducts, according to the annual mining report by the Western Economic Analysis Center in Marana.

That was an increase of 70 percent from 2006, a sign of high demand for copper, which is used in everything from mobile phones to computers to houses.

Colorado-based MWH Global Inc. opened a mining-services office in Tucson earlier this month to serve clients in the Southwest, said Stephen Taylor, vice president of Arizona and New Mexico operations for a unit of MWH.

“We like Tucson and the high activity in Tucson,” he said.

The existence of lots of other companies that offer mining services and have ties to the University of Arizona is a plus because MWH depends on that expertise, Taylor said.

MWH, which is headquartered in Broomfield, Colo., offers mining and environmental expertise, including engineering and compliance services for mine development and reclamation, construction management and environmental services. The company began offering mining services in 1997. Its Tucson office, at 4005 N. Flowing Wells Road, will initially employ three people. MWH also has offices in Tempe and Globe.

MWH employs nearly 7,000 people worldwide and draws them into projects as their expertise is needed, Taylor said.

A locally based mapping and geological surveying service is expanding to keep up with demand from the mining industry.

Founded in Tucson in 1991, GeoGrafx GIS Services is expanding, and last month it moved into new quarters at 540 W. Prince Road.

Founder Barbara H. Carroll plans to open an office in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the next year to serve a growing number of Canadian companies looking to explore.

“Last year I turned down more clients than I had,” she said. The Tucson office has five employees, and Carroll plans to add employees in Vancouver and across the United States.

The company creates three- dimensional maps of areas where clients are interested in mining, Carroll said.

Using computer programs, clients can see “slices” of the earth and what sorts of rock or orifices are below the surface.

“They’re not just pretty pictures,” Carroll said. “No ‘one’ makes a discovery; it’s discovered by a certain method.”

Based on the terrain and location of potentially mineral-rich rocks, geologists will determine their land position to begin drilling.

“It’s fun,” Carroll said of partnering with the companies. “The goal is not to make a lot of money but to find something.”

In Pima County last year, the copper industry spent more than $892 million for everything from construction to manufacturing to transportation services. Maricopa County received more than $954 million for wholesale products, service businesses and energy suppliers, according to the report.

The growth is driven by demand and price.

Copper sells for around $3.70 per pound right now — an amount that no one could foresee five years ago, when it was less than $1 per pound, Taylor said.

Taylor and Carroll both believe the industry not only has grown but has developed a more responsible attitude toward the communities in which it operates.

“The evolution is remarkable . . . the social consciousness that the mining companies now have,” Taylor said.

Because minerals are unique to certain areas, it’s not possible to simply pick up and move a mining project to another city or state, Carroll said.

“The deposits are found where they are,” she said. “You look for elephants in elephant country.”

By the numbers

$2.4 billion

2007 spending by the Arizona mining industry on goods and services for exploration and production

70%

Increase in spending from 2006

$892 million

Copper industry spending in Pima County last year

Source: Western Economic Analysis Center

–Contact Gabriela Rico at 573-4232 or grico@azstarnet.com.

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