Arizona leads the United States in copper production, accounting for 65 percent of the total U.S. mine production. In addition, Arizona is among the leaders in the production of gemstones, molybdenum, silver and perlite. There are 72 mining companies operating 126 mines in the state. More than 15,000 people are directly employed by the mining industry. The major Arizona copper mining companies are Asarco Inc., BHP Copper, and Phelps Dodge Corporation.
Low copper prices and increased foreign copper production resulted in a difficult period for copper producers in 1999. Arizona's copper production declined 4.8 percent in 1998 and fell 7.5 percent in 1999 to 2.42 billion pounds. The value of copper produced had an even more dramatic decline, dropping 29.9 percent in 1998 and 12.1 percent in 1999. Producers changed the goal of their operations, returning to the mantra of the late 1980s, achieving low-cost production, rather than maximizing production as they had been doing for most of the 90s. In addition to cutting costs and reducing production, the major Arizona copper companies attempted to improve their competitive position in a changing world market through mergers and acquisitions.