AlphaGraphics prospering in Utah

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At times, former AlphaGraphics Chief Executive Michael Witte sounded a bit dissatisfied with Utah.

"Utah is a tough sell," he told a group of businesspeople several years ago after moving the print-shop chain's headquarters from Tucson, Ariz., to downtown Salt Lake City. "If you have lived here all your life, you don't see this. But believe me, if you don't live here and you're looking in from the outside, otherwise educated, liberal open-minded people still look at the Utah environment and think you guys are from Mars. I'm not kidding."

Witte's comments about Utah's quirky image - and the difficulties it creates for some companies trying to recruit employees to the state - led to some concern that AlphaGraphics may have regretted its move to Utah and may not remain here over the long term.

Not so, Kevin Cushing, AlphaGraphics' new CEO, said Thursday at the company's annual meeting at the Grand America Hotel. He said the company is committed to Utah and is prospering here.

"This is the best place for the company," he said, adding, "there is way more in the plus column [about doing business in Utah] than in the negative column. I love it here."

Cushing, the owner of two franchised stores in Minnesota, brushed aside any questions about recruiting employees to the state, saying that different people have different preferences as to where to live.

For example, he said, had AlphaGraphics remained in Tucson, he probably would not have accepted the position as CEO.

Cushing took over as CEO in June, succeeding Witte, who left in January and sold his stake in the print-shop chain to the Great Britain-based G.A. Pindar & Son Ltd.

Cushing lived in Utah from 1984 to 1995, the year he opened his first AlphaGraphics store in downtown Minneapolis. Cushing, who subsequently moved to Minnesota, later opened a second store there in 1998.

He said he enjoyed his years living in Utah while working for a company that operated Hardee's restaurants and that he was skeptical about moving to Minnesota.

Cushing and his family eagerly accepted the opportunity earlier this year to return to Utah.

Cushing said AlphaGraphics' building in downtown Salt Lake City has worked out well and can accommodate the company for years to come.

"Our company could triple in size before we would need to consider any other facilities," Cushing said.

Like other international companies, AlphaGraphics faced some difficulty during the economic downturn, shedding about half of its international franchises. Today it has 283 locations in 11 countries, 245 of which are in the United States. It employs about 80 people at its Salt Lake City headquarters.