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Business event targets local firms hoping to expand globally

SANDY — Among the greatest opportunities for future growth and economic development for local businesses lie beyond the borders of Utah and the U.S.

Approximately 300 area business leaders heard that message during a conference aimed at highlighting the prospects for expansion in the global economy for local firms aspiring to become more prosperous.

Salt Lake County and World Trade Center Utah hosted an event called Metro Solutions on Thursday at the South Towne Expo Center. The program convened businesspeople eager to learn about county and state plans for increasing global trade and investment opportunities for local small- and medium-size companies.

"A regional approach does not pit city against city but rather unites individual strengths into a strong economic framework," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams told the audience. "The four sides of that frame are infrastructure, workforce development, business retention and expansion, and global engagement.

"Only by taking a regional approach can we ensure that our businesses stay globally competitive, our workforce has an opportunity for good-paying jobs now and in the future, and our families participate in broad-based prosperity and maintain a strong standard of living," McAdams said.

Salt Lake County and its partners are working to implement a metro export strategy to economic development, he said, with a focus on unifying the greater Salt Lake area to advance job growth and other local economic opportunities.

"We want to help (small- and medium-size businesses) grow their employment base and better connect to the global marketplace," McAdams said. "We know that if we can get them to export sooner, then they are more likely to survive as a business, to grow as a business, and they'll pay higher wages and hire more people."

Taking a regional approach, he said, will help broaden the benefits of good-paying jobs to a larger segment of the local workforce.

"Through an emphasis on infrastructure, workforce development, business retention and expansion, and global engagement, we believe we can strengthen the standard of living for many individuals and families here,” McAdams said.

The plan is an ongoing effort to bolster the county's already relatively strong economic foundation and help make it even more prosperous in the years to come, explained Derek Miller, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah.

“Salt Lake County’s proactive approach to economic development will pay dividends for county residents for decades to come,” Miller said.

World Trade Center Utah collaborated with the county on the Metro Solutions event, where the first round of Export Acceleration Grant recipients were announced. The grants will help companies advance their international business plans, thereby growing Utah’s economy, Miller said.

"The purpose of the grant is to take the good things they are doing here in Utah and now take those to the world," he said. "Ultimately, the purpose of the grant is to increase the market and customer base, and by doing so increase their profitability."

The grants were presented to 13 local businesses through a portion of $200,000 in funding provided by JPMorgan Chase, with recipients selected by a committee of members from World Trade Center Utah's board of directors, Miller explained.

Grant awards were between $5,000 and $10,000, he noted. This was the first phase of the funding that included $70,000 divided among the 13 recipients, Miller said. The second phase of grant applications is currently under review, he said.

The selected companies can use the grant money to remove some of the obstacles they face in expanding their businesses, Miller said.

"We can now go to these companies and say, 'Here is some money to help you,'" he said. "Whatever obstacle they view as in their path, we'll help them remove that obstacle."

Among the recipients was Salt Lake City-based KneeMD, a startup firm that makes therapy devices designed to help patients recovering from knee replacement surgery. The company received a $6,000 grant from the Export Acceleration Grant program that will be used to help expedite its growth plans.

"We have a product that is relevant to patients around the world, so we've always been very globally minded, and always intended at some point to consider exporting to other countries, but didn't really think that we could afford it," said June Chen, vice president of operations for KneeMD. "So the grant provides us with the funds and access necessary for us to begin identifying potential distribution partners really early in our business growth."

In the long run, having access to new markets will potentially allow the company to hire more people for its Utah operations, Chen said.

Similarly, Daniel Marriott, president of Spectra Symbol — a Salt Lake firm that makes high-tech sensors — said his company will also be able to move forward on its international expansion plans using the $7,000 grant award.

"First, it allows us to use the World Trade Center's network to make connections overseas," Marriott said. "Second, it allows us to get overseas to prime the pump a little bit in our expansions efforts."