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China sees ‘dull’ Utah as a model

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Utah's dry landscapes and provincial reputation have Chinese citizens singing its praises.

In fact, Utah is a rising star in the People's Republic, according to Newsweek magazine.

A story in a special edition, East Meets West, available on newsstands and on the Web at www.msnbc.com/news/597171.asp, includes a look at why China has its eyes on Utah.

China's "equally dusty and unglamorous" western provinces, as Newsweek calls them, are hoping to copy Utah's economic feat in transforming itself from a mining and steel landscape into one of America's three most-wired states.

"When they think of the United States, they think of Utah," the article says. "Utah ranks among the least sexy of American states. . . . It's precisely Utah's dull reputation that has intrigued the Chinese."

With per capita incomes stagnating and just 3 percent of foreign investment reaching the nation's vast interior region, China's western provinces believe Utah holds the answers.

Much of the state's popularity abroad can be traced to efforts by Utah's International Business Development Office, under executive director Dan Mabey.

Four years ago the agency opened a Beijing office, one of 18 centers worldwide designed to expand Utah's business base and recruit foreign investment.

"We were the first ones to do this," Mabey told the Deseret News. "Other states are now copying us."

That opened the door to diplomatic visits resulting in science and technology agreements signed between Utah and Chinese government officials.

"We have reached out and touched most of the provinces and leading cities," Mabey said. "It creates a level of connectivity."

That connectivity is leading Beijing to accept the Utah way of modernizing its economy, the article maintains.

In many ways, China's western frontier today is similar to Utah during pioneer times, when the asperities of day-to-day living, isolationism and scarce opportunities were a way of life.

Hard work and education changed all of that 150 years later, resulting in what Mabey calls Utah's high-tech garden setting.

"To them, with a 5,000-year history, that sounds like a quick fix," he said.

And China's "ugly-duckling" provinces, the article says, are desperately seeking a turnaround of their own.

Rod Linton, executive director of Gov. Mike Leavitt's Utah Silicon Valley Alliance program, said recovery begins with education and encouraging entrepreneurship.

"One of the pieces of advice we would give is whatever you have in the way of research universities and educational facilities, strengthen them first," Linton told the Deseret News. "If you don't have a well-educated population, it becomes very difficult for you to take advantage of high technology opportunities."

Mabey maintains the payoffs for a Utah-China relationship will be enormous.

"We believe if these people think of Utah when they think of America, they will come to Utah and do business with Utah," Mabey said. "We're very well positioned in China. We hope to capitalize in a mutually beneficial way."

E-mail: danderton@desnews.com