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Utah traits enticing to Austria firms, envoy says

Many of the traits that draw U.S. businesses to Utah also may entice companies from Austria, that nation's ambassador said Friday.

Helmut Tuerk, serving his fifth year as Austria's ambassador to the United States, said during a stay in Salt Lake City that he sees potential for increased trade between Utah and his country.Austria already has seven companies operating here, he said, and the state's highly trained work force, good infrastructure and communications, low crime rate and beautiful environment may make it attractive for others.

"Austrians very much insist on living in a healthy environment," Tuerk said, adding that he also hopes more Utah companies consider setting up shop in Austria.

"We're trying to increase (business with Utah) and also entice Utah companies to use Austria as a springboard to East and Central Europe."

Tuerk said Austria's trade with nations in those areas has doubled since the downfall of communism.

Franz Kolb, a trade executive in the Utah International Development Office, said more than 300 U.S. companies have operations in Austria, and more than 200 Austrian businesses operate in the United States.

"We've had some very good trade relations with that country," Kolb said Friday. "We see some potential there in high technology, maybe the medical industry, also in tourism development and education."

Tuerk, the first Austrian ambassador to visit all 50 U.S. states, said his current visit to Utah included both private elements - skiing and staying at the governor's mansion - and official visits with business and government leaders.

One topic of discussion has been Salt Lake City's hosting of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Austria has hosted the Winter Games twice, Tuerk said, and it is bidding along with Slovenia and Italy for the 2006 event.

"I can tell you thousands of Austrians are going to come over here for the Olympic games," he said. "This really puts Salt Lake City and Utah on the map for Austria."

Meanwhile, Austria will keep increasing its visibility on the European map. Former Iron Curtain nations look to it as a model and hope for its support as they seek to join the European Union, Tuerk said.

He said Austria became a member of that trade and economic organization on Jan. 1, 1995, after remaining separate from it for years due to a tradition of neutrality.

The nation is now discussing that tradition and whether to join NATO. Some people see no reason to give up their neutrality, because their nation faces no threat, Tuerk said. Others feel the nation should contribute to the common security of the area.

But Austria definitely is moving ahead economically. Tuerk said it will be one of the first nations in the planned European monetary union, which is scheduled to begin next year and include a common currency, the euro.

After it gains acceptance, Tuerk said, the euro should take its place alongside the dollar and yen as one of the leading currencies in the world. And it will strengthen the European Union's trading position as globalization of markets continues.

"(The EU) is going to be a very powerful block of 500 million consumers," he said.