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Guest opinion: What is Utah's role in a global economy?

The Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance to allow accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law apartments, citywide.
Overall, the Utah economy is doing very well with a 3.1 percent unemployment rate, the twelfth lowest in the U.S. Nevertheless, can its companies do better in servicing the almost 96 percent of potential consumers who live abroad?
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On Nov. 8, the governor’s office, the Salt Lake Chamber and the World Trade Center will sponsor an all-day forum titled “Utah the Crossroads of the World.”

The weekly Tabernacle Choir broadcast made legendary the phrase, “Crossroads of the West,” but what about the world?

Utah's economy produced in 2017 just slightly less than Qatar, measured in nominal U.S. dollars. If Utah were a nation-state, it would rank as the world’s 55th largest economy. Of course, California would rank fifth, surpassing the United Kingdom and trailing Germany, and each of the 50 states could be listed among the top 98 nations around the globe.

Utah is landlocked and mostly deserts and mountains. Its population of 3.1 million is appreciably smaller than that of Los Angeles. Among the states, Utah stands 30th in both population and GDP.

Utah’s share of the value of U.S. exports in 2017 was 0.7 percent, ranking 28th among the 50 states. It also has a peculiar export profile. Thirty-five states export more to Canada than any other country, and four count Mexico as their primary export destination. For Utah, number one is the U.K. and number two is Hong Kong. Why?

The vast mining operation in Bingham Canyon was sold by Kennecott to the Rio Tinto Group in 1989. It refines gold and much is shipped to Rio Tinto’s headquarters in London and major subsidiary in Hong Kong. Refined gold is Utah’s leading export, far ahead of electronic integrated circuits and food preparations.

Foreign direct investment in the United States, which provides overseas enterprises with control over U.S.-based companies, provided 6.7 million U.S. jobs in 2015. Roughly 42,000 of these jobs were in Utah, or 0.6 percent of the U.S. total. U.K. companies are the leading foreign investors in Utah, led by Rio Tinto.

International tourism is also important for Utah’s economy, with 800,000 foreign visitors traveling to the state in 2015 and spending $770 million. Utah is also next door to a magnet for visitors from abroad — Las Vegas — which attracts nine times more foreign visitors spending 12 times more money. Utah’s scenic national parks, ski resorts and other natural, historical and cultural sites should be enticing to some of these overseas visitors to nearby southern Nevada and Southern California.

Overall, the Utah economy is doing very well, with a 3.1 percent unemployment rate, the twelfth lowest in the U.S. Nevertheless, can its companies do better in servicing the almost 96 percent of potential consumers who live abroad? Some of these enterprises already provide internationally competitive goods and services, but sadly do not export.

Just as the Utah Jazz attract some of the best talent from around the world, so should Utah be enticing to foreign investors because of its young and disciplined workforce, first-rate infrastructure, quality universities and research facilities, the new inland port and high quality of life.

Utah also ranks near the top in terms of U.S.-born residents who speak a second language. However, only 21 percent of K-12 students are currently studying a foreign language, ranking 16th in the U.S. and far behind New Jersey’s 51 percent.

Utah displayed itself to the rest of the world by hosting the highly successful 2002 Winter Olympics. No longer would global residents simply stereotype the state as mountains, Mormons and Osmonds. As Gov. Mike Leavitt emphasized at the time, friends tend to trade with friends, and he met with international business leaders throughout the duration of the Olympics.

Following in the tradition of the Olympics, Salt Lake City will host next August a meeting of non-governmental organizations expected to attract thousands of international visitors.

Utah is emerging as a global actor and should continue to solidify its linkages with the rest of the world.