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Trade is making Utah the crossroads of the world

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Utah, the crossroads of the world?

A strong case for that title can be made.

Among the accolades the state has received in recent years, including the title as the nation’s fastest-growing state during the previous decade, this one might catch people by surprise. Crossroads of the West, yes, but the world? However, the numbers don’t lie.

Utah ranks 16th among states in terms of per capita export values, despite its population ranking only 30th. That is according to Natalie Gochnour, associate dean for the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

She also noted that Utah has the third-highest per capita export ranking among Western states, which is higher even than California.

The Gardner Policy Institute reports that Utah companies exported a combined $17.4 billion in 2023, which supported almost 72,000 jobs and generated about $4 billion in earnings. This also added $8 billion to Utah’s economy and $16.7 billion to the state’s gross industry sales output.

Add to that the fact that Utah exported to 200 nations last year, including $7.2 billion (most of it unwrought gold) to its No. 1 trading partner, the United Kingdom. Canada and Mexico were second and third on the export list.

Those are a lot of numbers to digest. But what they add up to is this: When it comes to trade, an impressive amount takes place at this crossroads. And that volume of trade leads to influence.

Small wonder, then, that Utah has attracted enough attention to also attract several marquee names to a Crossroads of the World Summit, sponsored by World Trade Center Utah and Zions Bank and held at Salt Lake City’s Grand America hotel last week.

That list included former U.S. President George W. Bush, former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It’s hard to attract a lineup like that without bona fides.

Add to this the lineups Utah Valley University has attracted in recent years: a China Summit that included former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., current ambassador Nicholas Burns and a list of experts and journalists; a United Nations conference that drew many U.N. delegates and featured the introduction of 75 scholarly papers; and a conference on Ukraine that featured consul generals from Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Spain, as well as a video appearance by Ryan Guirlinger of the U.S. Department of State.

Utah’s crossroads, then, is expanding to include serious international policy discussions as well as trade.

But it would be wrong to underestimate the value of the trade on its own. In addition to gold, Utah exports a lot of computer/electronic parts, chemicals and miscellaneous manufacturing commodities. However, the state’s best asset may be something homegrown — its people.

During last week’s summit, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told of a conversation he had recently with a well-known hedge fund billionaire he declined to identify. The billionaire told him Utah’s strongest asset was a population of smart, hardworking people who prioritize their families.

“Those are Utah values and they used to be American values,” Cox said. “Utah is what America used to be and, I hope, what it can be again.”

The president of World Trade Center Utah, Jonathan Freedman, characterized the summit as trying to explore international trade as a place “where diplomacy and business intersect.” That process naturally includes a cooperative spirit between government and business. The trade center, he said, offers “insights to place Utah companies at the front of global commerce.”

Not all the news concerning trade was good, however. Fox, the former Mexican president, spoke about the challenges concerning migration, which has traditionally contributed mightily to the U.S. economy. Mexico, he said, is approaching a labor crisis and may not be able to provide the labor Utah and other states depend on.

This echoes the concerns many demographers have about a diminishing birth rate internationally. It could affect Utah and other Western states as well.

Fox also warned about tyrannical dictators in some Latin American countries. His answer to this is greater cooperation between Mexico, Canada and the United States. That’s a good recipe for solving a lot of problems.

And that greater cooperation can mean only greater trade coming through Utah, the crossroads of the world.

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