It was just a truckload of machine ball bearings, but it made history in 1969 by becoming the first shipment of Utah-made products processed by the new U.S. Customs office at the Salt Lake Municipal Airport.
More than that, it signaled a break away from a hold that Denver held over Utah businesses. Before this day, the closest customs offices to Utah were either there or in San Francisco.
Getting the customs office was priority for the Chamber of Commerce of Salt Lake City in the 1960s. In 1963 the Chamber’s board of governors first asked its retail and wholesale trades committees to start lobbying the Congressional delegation for its support of an office. In 1967 the Chamber put together another run at the idea, spearheading an Intermountain region drive.
They had good reason to do so. The Chamber, under E.H. (Biff) Azbill, manager of its industrial department, polled Utah businessmen and the results were surprising. In a day when Utah wasn’t widely known for its exports, they found one company exporting to twenty-three different markets, a diamond firm exporting more than $1 million yearly, and a Utah company selling $205,000 worth of evaporated milk to Puerto Rico. There were many more examples.
A lot of those firms said they would ship more if it weren’t for the delays of going outside the state, the Chamber discovered. And this worked both ways: goods coming into Utah had to bypass the state and then come back after clearing customs in Colorado and California.
It took two years to get the office, but in 1969 the Chamber’s Azbill came out of retirement to cut the ribbon for the new Port of Salt Lake City in a federal building office. Then the Chamber sponsored an all-day seminar for businessmen on how to use the office.
With the new Customs office, Utah goods were packed, sealed, an export declaration made, and loaded on an aircraft without any further handling until it got to its destination. A pretty straightforward process, but one that saved Utah businessmen and consumers a lot of money and time.
Sources: Salt Lake Business, April and July, 1969. Salt Lake Tribune 10 April, 1963; 22 August 1967.