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Why Utah's open borders aren't threatening

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, speaks at the 2016 Utah Economic Summit.
Natalie Gochnour, associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, speaks at the 2016 Utah Economic Summit.
Governor's Office of Economic Development

Editor's note: A. Scott Anderson serves as co-chairman of the Gardner Institute Advisory Board

A robust public policy debate is occurring in Utah, in Congress, across the country and throughout the world regarding globalization — is it a boon or bane for the economy?

It’s a very good question. And it’s driving a lot of discussion over immigration, populism and “America first” attitudes. Do such things as international trade agreements, offshoring and the unrestricted flow of goods and services across national boundaries help or hurt Utah’s economy?

Answering that question sounds like an ideal job for the University of Utah’s relatively new Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. And, thanks to a new 29-page research report published in the inaugural edition of the Gardner Business Review, policymakers in Utah have an answer — “on the whole, the Utah economy is larger and more prosperous because of globalization.”

The report on globalization’s economic impact is an example of the good work the Gardner Institute provides as it fulfills its mission to “develop and share economic, demographic and public policy data and research that help people in the community make INFORMED DECISIONS.”

The Gardner Institute has quickly become a valued and critical resource for Utah policymakers at all levels of government, along with business leaders, nonprofit organizations and all citizens who need timely and relevant demographic, economic, and public policy data and information. The institute also provides survey research, training and informed seminars, discussions and group facilitation.

The institute’s staff, led by economist and public policy veteran Natalie Gochnour, is comprised of more than two dozen professionals with decades of experience in economics, demographics and public policy disciplines.

The institute brought together two revered University of Utah institutions — Bureau of Economic and Business Research (started in 1932), and the Center for Public Policy & Administration (started in 1946). See the institute’s website,, to view the full range of activities and services.

The Gardner Institute is not an advocacy organization. Its mission is to provide data and information so that policymakers and all community members can make informed decisions.

In keeping with that mission, the institute’s new article in the Gardner Business Review provides valuable information and perspectives on international trade, immigration, offshoring and international travel.

Researched and written by James A. Wood, an Ivory-Boyer Senior Fellow at the Gardner Institute, the report concludes that “Utah has benefited from the relatively unrestricted flow of goods and people.”

This topic is very important, because the Trump administration, members of Congress and other policymakers are debating open borders and international trade agreements. Wood writes, “While some may portray free trade and open borders as threatening, the data suggest such a negative view is not warranted for Utah. Our state has not seen overall negative effects from the relatively unrestricted cross-border flow of goods and people.”

In fact, “A big reason for Utah’s international success is that many of the products we manufacture are largely immune to offshoring. Utah also has a great need for labor to support our growing economy. Immigrants, rather than displacing local workers, have been a welcome source of labor supply.”

The report notes that Utah’s 2015 international goods exports supported $3.5 billion in earnings and 84,367 jobs, and added $6.7 billion to Utah’s gross domestic product. Utah has nearly 172,200 foreign-born workers, making up 12.5 percent of Utah’s workforce overall, and 70 percent of agricultural workers, 25 percent of manufacturing workers and 22 percent of construction workers.

Data on Utah’s foreign-born residents, refugee resettlement, international travel and international students also reinforce the positive impacts of the cross-border movement of goods and people.

Utahns can look forward to more insightful research reports from the Gardner Institute.

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