Relationships Spanning Borders

Utah Thriving as an International Business State

Tom Haraldsen

March 1, 2011

As a result, Quantronix can now place quarterly orders with its Mexican suppliers, compared to a once-yearly order with suppliers in Asia where freight needed to be shipped overseas via containers.

So which of their three regions is more important to Utah? Each director has his own story to tell.

“Europe has been, historically, one of the biggest international investors in Utah,” Kolb says proudly. “We have tens of thousands of people working in this state because of the commitment of European companies that have come over here.”

He cites Rio Tinto, parent company of Kennecott, as an example, as well as Dutch pension fund companies that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in mining in Southern Utah.

Heimburger touts Asia as “one of the fastest areas of growth for Utah exports in the past five years, and an even more significant part of the future world economy. To ignore the Asian markets is to ignore a huge part of the global economy. By some estimates, Asia may comprise more than 60 percent of global GDP by 2040.”

Since 2006, merchandise exports from Utah to Asian markets have increased over 240 percent. In addition, service exports, including consulting, legal services, insurance and banking education, royalties and licensing fees have also increased dramatically.     Rovira points to the free-trade agreements the U.S. has with 17 nations, 10 of which are in Latin America.

“Utah companies are now actively doing business in more than half of Mexico’s 32 states,” he says. “All the trade numbers point very positively in our direction from the Americas. Those free trade agreements have leveled the playing field and are a catalyst into our economy.”

Strategic Developments

A look at the numbers shows the impact on Utah for international business. Exporting of goods and services from Utah reached $13.5 billion in 2010, a 100 percent increase from numbers 2006. In 2010, exports to the United Kingdom accounted for over 31 percent of the state’s total. Greater China (including PRC, Hong Kong, Taiwan) comprised 15 percent, and Canada was 9 percent, and exports to India accounted for 8 percent. Categories of goods exported included electronics, chemicals, precious metals, medical equipment, industrial machinery and automotive parts. In 2010, about a quarter million jobs were supported in Utah by international trade.

“Our office has the seal of the state, and that means so much outside the U.S.,” Heimburger says. “We lend credibility and legitimacy to Utah companies and their efforts to forge partnerships, as well as to solicit investment dollars to Utah. That’s something that only a government agency can do.”

In fact, GOED, working with Utah's business leaders, was the key impetus for the creation of the World Trade Center Utah (WTCUT). "World Trade Center Utah has deeply appreciated our partnership with the State, and the combined ability to work together with all Utahns in fostering a global environment has made a positive and demonstrable impact on our growing international trade in Utah," says Lew Cramer, CEO, WTCUT. "The World Trade Center Utah has worked closely with GOED and our other strategic partners in helping the Governor promote international trade and economic development, which is fulfilling Utah's 2002 Olympic Winter Games promise, ‘The World Is Welcome Here,’” says Craig Peterson, director of International Trade and Diplomacy.

Another feature working in Utah’s favor is its location in “middle America.” With excellent transportation channels and moderate cost of living, the State is attracting global offices and headquarters.

“It’s one thing to be on the east coast, and it’s another thing to consolidate everything here in Utah,” Kolb says. He points to Amer Sports, the Finnish company that now has a division in Ogden, Utah, located in the former American Can Company building. The sales function for Amer brands like Salomon, Atomic and Suunto are headquartered there, and Amer also owns the Wilson and Precor sporting good brands.

“Amer found an employment base that is productive and speaks many languages, has an international orientation, and came to a state that hosts two international trade shows,” Kolb says. “So it’s a win-win for them.”

“A lot of foreign companies have scoured the coasts for years to find good business opportunities,” Heimburger adds. “Now they’re realizing that a lot of hidden gems are the companies inland, especially Utah. Ones they can invest in, and partner with, to round out their own portfolios.”

And if in international business the world is a company’s oyster, they’re quickly finding out that Utah is their pearl.

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