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Anyone digging for some decent economic news can unearth quite a bit at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

There, at big trade show MINExpo 2008, much of the talk this week revolves around the luster visiting the mining industry. Commodities continue to post strong numbers, with demand for coal at all-time highs and the price of gold surpassing $900 Monday.

Mining gains could bolster Nevada's economic fortunes.

The Silver State produced a record $4.9 billion in gold, copper, silver and other metals in 2007, based on statistics from the National Mining Association. Nevada ranks among world leaders for gold production along with Australia, South Africa and China. And though mining employs just 1 percent of the state's work force, it contributes major tax dollars -- $1.7 billion worth in the last 20 years, including nearly $200 million in 2006, according to the Nevada Mining Association.

Thanks to flush times for miners everywhere, MINExpo 2008 will likely rank as the biggest mining trade show the world has seen, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association. Attendance at the quadrennial show grew 30 percent over 2004 levels, to about 40,000. The association, which sponsors the show, sold 600,000 square feet of floor space to 1,250 exhibitors. Miners from 17 countries are on hand for the show. And Gov. Jim Gibbons stopped by as well, to address attendees at the show's grand opening Monday morning.

Mining trends show why attendance at the trade show, which isn't open to the public, hit new highs this year. Chalk up the interest to brisk demand for coal and precious metals, said experts who spoke at the National Mining Association's state of the industry panel Monday morning.

Take coal.

The association forecasts demand for 1.2 billion tons of U.S. coal in 2008, which would best the 2006 record of just over 1 billion tons, said Michael Quillen, chairman and chief executive officer of Alpha Natural Resources in Virginia. What's more, the amount of coal the United States exports in 2008 could reach 85 million tons, triple 2006's export volume. There could be more to come: The United States owns 27 percent of the world's coal reserves. That's equivalent to Saudi Arabia's share of the world's oil supply and Russia's portion of global natural gas stockpiles.

Fast-growing China relies on coal for 80 percent of its power generation, and European countries plan to build 50 coal-based power plants in the next five years, Quillen added.

Exhibitors at MINExpo say the boom in coal has been a boon to their bottom lines.

Sales have tripled for Leica Geosystems Mining Group since MINExpo 2004, said Martin Nix, senior vice president.

Leica, which has offices in Australia and Arizona, makes software for mining-fleet management, and it benefits from sheer mining growth as well as increasing interest among mine operators in monitoring their machines for productivity and safety.

"We've seen extraordinary growth," Nix said. "Mineral resources are in demand, and high prices are driving good returns for mining companies, so they can reinvest in a system like ours."

For Goodman Conveyors of South Carolina, big jumps in mining for coal, iron ore, potash and copper pushed solid gains in demand for the conveyor belts and parts the company makes.

Goodman officials skipped MINExpo in 2004, but made a point of making this year's version thanks to the spike in sales.

"Compared to four years ago, our business is much stronger," said Carter Matthews, vice president of sales and marketing.

Goodman does especially brisk business these days in Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. It also serves clients in the Southwest United States, though tougher permitting processes in America and a weak U.S. dollar have meant stronger international business rather than improved domestic business, Matthews said.

And sales rose 25 percent in the last four years at Polaris Laboratories, an Indianapolis company that tests fluids in mining machines to diagnose maintenance issues before they force down time.

Polaris has customers in Nevada, among other states, and Chief Operating Officer Mark Minges said the Silver State should enjoy a stable mining sector for the foreseeable future.

"I think Nevada is going to be a strong mining state for a lot of years to come," Minges said. "Gold is huge here, and my contacts in gold tell me that while some mines are playing out, they have others to go to. With the price of gold being what it is, it makes it very attractive for them to open up new areas. Gold mining is not going anywhere for a while in Nevada."

In addition to connecting with exhibitors, MINExpo attendees are taking courses in safety, technology, public policy and environmentally friendly mining techniques. They're also visiting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and taking a Black Canyon River Raft tour.

The trade show is in town through Wednesday.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

 

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