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New Delta flight presents economic growth opportunities for Utah, Western Europe

A Delta jets taxis at Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.
A Delta jets taxis at Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

This week I am traveling with Gov. Gary Herbert in Western Europe with a delegation of 40 business and community leaders. We are here to promote trade and tourism between Utah and five countries in Europe. The catalyst for the visit is Delta Air Lines' new nonstop flight from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam. This direct flight provides an opportunity to capitalize on Utah’s economic ties to Western Europe.

I asked Alan Ross, the head of the U.S. Commercial Service in the Netherlands, why the non-stop flight was important. He didn’t hesitate in his response. He said, “The better the connection, the better the trade.” He characterized the direct flight as a starting point for increased economic growth in both countries. “In international trade, transportation is everything,” he said. “You have to make connections, and this flight is the place to start.” Like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Diego, which all have direct flights from Amsterdam, he said this new flight provides a basis to increase connectivity between valuable economic partners.

The Utah-Netherlands connection is multi-faceted. At an evening reception launching the trade mission, representatives from the U.S. Embassy and the head of the U.S. Commercial Service in the Netherlands made a compelling case for increased economic partnership. They described the Netherlands as “the smallest economic giant in the world economy.” They shared several stats. The Dutch economy is the 17th largest in the world and fifth largest in the European Union. They operate the largest port in Europe and are the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products (U.S. ranks first). Seven thousand U.S. companies have a Dutch distribution network, and 1,600 U.S. companies have a base of operations in the Netherlands. Their English proficiency is very high, making U.S. and Netherland trade convenient.

This connection continues at the state level. U.S. Commercial Services reports Netherlands-U.S. trade accounts for 3,600 Utah jobs and $164.6 million in Utah exports. Four Dutch companies have a base of operation in Utah, including ASML (chip manufacturing), DSM (industrial manufacturing), Corbion (biobased products company) and Reed Elsevier (fraud detection and global business strategy). Utah’s language proficiency has been very evident as the governor’s former chief of staff, Derek Miller, director of the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah, and a member of the governor’s security detail all speak Dutch.

Another way to think of the economic connection is to consider the impact of the non-stop flight on Utah’s tourism industry. The Utah Office of Tourism hosted an event with tour operators and tourism writers from the Netherlands. Vicki Varela, the state’s chief tourism officer, introduced the audience to what Utah markets as the “Mighty Five National Parks” and “Greatest Snow on Earth.” She showed inspiring videos of our parks and ski areas. Representatives of the Stein Eriksen Lodge, St. Regis Deer Valley, Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau and Montage Deer Valley were in attendance to answer questions and assist with booking travel.

Gov. Herbert has done his job to be what he called the state’s CBO or Chief Bragging Officer. In his diplomatic role he has extended our state’s good will and shared ties and scarfs designed with beehive symbols with presenters. He even presented the vice mayor of Amsterdam with a Real Salt Lake jersey.

The governor captured the essence of the visit when he said to Consul General for the Netherlands Hugo von Meijefeldt and Vice Mayor of Amsterdam Udo Kock, “We want to be part of your future and we want you to be part of ours.”

Tomorrow the delegation heads to Europe’s leading research and development facility — the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, more commonly known as KU Leuven, and to IMEC, a micro and nanoelectronics research center.

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.