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Trade connects our landlocked state to the world

FILE — President and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, Derek Miller, addresses the audience during the Utah Global Forum at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016.
FILE — President and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, Derek Miller, addresses the audience during the Utah Global Forum at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016.
Nick Wagner, Nick Wagner

Despite protestations against trade from both major-party presidential candidates, the truth is trade opens our landlocked state to millions of new customers and opportunities that would not be available in a closed economy. Trade is not killing Utah. Quite the contrary — Utah is killing it when it comes to international trade.

This week the annual Utah Global Forum highlighted how Utah’s economy continues to diversify and grow into international markets. Attendees of the forum learned that international trade supports 22 percent of Utah’s workforce; Utah exports grew by 8 percent in 2015, adding an extra $1 billion to the economy; Utah is a trade-surplus state by an average $4 billion per year, and Utah is ranked ninth in the nation for fastest-growing exports.

Under any circumstances, Utah’s achievements in trade are remarkable, but they are even more so considering external and internal challenges. A strong U.S. dollar, terrorism and unrest abroad, and economic doldrums in the global economy inhibit exports generally. Utah has a small population, has no seaport and is in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. Within that context, Utah’s strong export growth is extraordinary and a testament to the small-business owners, entrepreneurs and job creators in our state.

The purpose of the Utah Global Forum is to provide companies with tools and resources to build on past success. Experienced exporters shared thoughts on how to get started in international businesses. Experts spoke on the importance of networking and creating partnerships in foreign markets. Financial professionals highlighted local resources for funding and the important topic of how to get paid by overseas buyers.

Numerous foreign consuls general attended the forum to instruct attendees on how to do business in their respective countries. These consuls spent the day in Salt Lake City at the forum and then spent the next day at Utah Valley University for a diplomatic conference on international trade relations. Utah benefits tremendously from welcoming many foreign diplomatic visitors. Just last year, over 30 diplomats visited Utah from many countries, including China, India, Chile, Peru, Japan, Thailand and France.

In additional to a variety of knowledgeable speakers and informative content, the forum included an important announcement on the potential development of an inland port in Utah. A report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute was released at the forum, outlining how Utah has the right ingredients for developing an intermodal distribution hub. An inland port makes sense for Utah because of our geographic advantage as the “crossroads of the West.” Having an inland port in Utah would elevate our status as a global business destination and help ensure economic vitality into the future.

In his keynote address, Gov. Gary Herbert announced the formation of an exploratory committee, co-chaired by the World Trade Center Utah from the private sector and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development from the public sector. This exploratory committee will consist of business and community stakeholders, with the task of conducting a feasibility assessment and studying similar inland ports across the country.

As Herbert pointed out in this announcement, Utah is the best-performing economy in the nation today because of the foundation laid by visionaries who came before. Pointing to examples of this pioneer spirit through Utah’s history, the governor recognized early efforts to capture and conserve water and build roads and rails, as well as recent visionaries who dreamed big and won big by bringing the Olympics to our state. This work laid a foundation for Utah to take its place atop the economic peak. And now we have the opportunity to ensure Utah stays on top by continuing to make wise investments in our state’s future.

Derek B. Miller is the president & CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.