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Governor’s trade mission opens doors in Europe

This is Merit Medical Systems' new corporate office and distribution center in Maastricht, Netherlands.
This is Merit Medical Systems' new corporate office and distribution center in Maastricht, Netherlands.
Leon Vrijdag Fotografie

Gov. Gary Herbert’s recent trade mission to Western Europe was a tremendous success from my perspective as a participant. The mission fulfilled its objectives, opening new trading doors for Utah companies and fostering future business growth and investment in Utah.

Gov. Herbert works very hard on these trade missions, his schedule a non-stop whirlwind of meetings and receptions, all to promote Utah and bring greater economic prosperity and more jobs to our state.

A valuable part of the trip was learning about Utah companies that have European operations. For example, Utah-based Merit Medical Systems, one of the world’s foremost medical device manufacturers, has a major presence in Maastricht, the Netherlands. I talked to Justin Lampropoulos, executive vice president of marketing and strategy, who recently spent nearly five years running operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa while residing in Maastricht.

He noted that the Dutch have a great work ethic and the Netherlands has a foreign-friendly business environment, offering tax breaks and incentives for operating in the country.

The Netherlands is a trading nation, a center for commerce in Western Europe. America's relationship with the Netherlands goes back to John Adams, the first U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, who sought support and financing for the American Revolution against the British. He found both support and money. The Netherlands was the first country to recognize the newly formed and independent United States of America.

Delta's new 9½-hour direct flight from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam, whose international airport is one of the busiest in Europe, presents significant opportunities to attract more European tourists to visit Utah and more opportunities for Utah businesses to expand their markets into Western Europe.

Lampropoulos said Merit Medical established its first European presence in Ireland, but Ireland was not an ideal location for distribution of medical devices throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Merit found Maastricht in the Netherlands had the logistical infrastructure for a corporate office and customer service/distribution center to most efficiently and competitively serve vast parts of the world.

The Netherlands also has a workforce with diverse multilingual capability. In Europe 23 official languages are spoken and more than 200 total languages are spoken in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Merit has been able to hire native-speaking customer service professionals in Maastricht to serve Europe's largest economies such as France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain, and also emerging markets such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Turkey, the Gulf Region, Africa and more. Merit can also serve hospitals with critical overnight shipments of medical devices.

These capabilities, in addition to American ties and appreciation, business-friendly environment, transportation crossroads, research and innovation, and modern and robust infrastructure, have attracted numerous blue-chip firms to establish their European headquarters and distribution centers in Maastricht and the Limburg region of the Netherlands.

In Forbes magazine's latest list of the world's best countries for business, the Netherlands is ranked 11th, higher than most of its European neighbors, and higher than the United States, which ranks 18th. The World Bank ranks the Netherlands 27th worldwide in ease of doing business, among 189 countries. The website www.Iamsterdam.com notes that “entrepreneurs can launch a business within four days here, compared to five-and-a-half in Denmark, 14.5 in Germany, and 6 in the UK."

And while you must order water at restaurants and request ice cubes, Lampropoulos, who lived with his wife and young family in Maastricht for five years, found it a desirable place to work and live, even with young children. He enjoys interacting with the Dutch people. Limburg, he notes, has deep ties to the United States. In September 1944, it was the first city liberated by U.S. forces in World War II. It is also the final resting place of 8,301 American soldiers, including soldiers from Utah. English is spoken by 90 percent of the population.

He recommends the Netherlands as an attractive option for Utah companies looking to enter not only Europe, but the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) as well. Merit’s operations in Maastricht have been key to the firm’s rapid growth in the EMEA countries, which now account for nearly 20 percent of Merit's annual sales.

For Utah, international trade is a large and growing business sector. Utah's net international exports for 2014 totaled $12.27 billion. With the exception of gold and mineral exports, all other export categories have shown a steady increase, according to Zions Bank senior economist Robert Spendlove. The top three export industries for Utah are primary metals, computers and electronics, and chemicals. The top three trading partners are Hong Kong, Canada and the United Kingdom. Some 17 percent of Utah's miscellaneous manufactured products (other than primary metals, computers and electronics, chemicals, food and transportation equipment) is sold in the Netherlands.

The governor's trade mission also toured the Huntsman chemical plant in Everberg, Belgium, (just outside of Brussels). This plant produces polyurethane products and represents a significant investment in Europe. The Huntsmans hosted a lunch for the Utah trade delegation, explained how they operate, and some of the exciting research they are doing in Belgium to enrich the human experience through innovation. The Utah flag flew over the Huntsman building during our visit, in addition to the flags of Belgium and the European Union.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.