clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A. Scott Anderson: How this landlocked state became a surprising global competitor

Salt Lake City, Utah.
Salt Lake City, Utah.
Adobe Stock

Utah might be a relatively small landlocked state in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, but since its founding, Utah has always been focused outward to the rest of the world.

Many of Utah’s early settlers arrived in the Beehive State from foreign countries, bringing with them their languages, customs and connections to their original homes. With the headquarters of a worldwide church in Salt Lake City, and thousands of young Utahns spending a few years in foreign nations, learning their languages and cultures, those ties to countries around the world have continued.

Today, another key link to the global community is business relationships and international trade. Utah exports myriad goods and services to foreign countries, and enjoys a significant trade surplus, meaning we export more to other nations than we import from them.

International trade is crucial to Utah’s booming technology sector, our strong mining and minerals industry, and to agriculture, which in 2015 sent more than $420 million of agricultural products to foreign markets. We need to remember that some 95 percent of the world's consumers reside outside of the United States.

At a recent thought leader symposium hosted by the Salt Lake Chamber and World Trade Center Utah, Sen. Orrin Hatch discussed the issue of international trade, noting its importance to Utah.

“International trade, including exports and imports, directly supports almost 353,000 Utah jobs,” said Sen. Hatch in his keynote address. “In other words, nearly one in five jobs in our state are tied to trade. These trade-related jobs grew 2.5 times faster than total employment from 1992 to 2016. Better still, those jobs pay around 16 percent more than jobs unrelated to trade.”

Sen. Hatch noted that Utah exported $11.6 billion in goods last year, and $6.3 billion in services the year before. Some 84 percent of all Utah exports came from small and medium-sized businesses.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Hatch is uniquely positioned to monitor U.S. economic conditions and the importance of international trade. He is in the middle of trade policy discussions in Washington, D.C., especially as controversies regarding tariffs and trade wars have surfaced.

Sen. Hatch stressed that our nation cannot afford to be isolated and that "trade serves as a tool for strengthening partnerships and alliances.” He shared his belief that protectionist policies corrode the economy as well as our global and moral standing in the world.

At the same event, Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said, “Utah is a globally minded state, an internationally sophisticated state and a trade state. Utah businesses need free markets, fair trading practices and the stability and predictability that comes with strong trade agreements.”

Miles Hansen, the new president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, said, "Expanding international markets, reducing trade barriers, countering unfair trade practices and investing in our workforce are all essential in creating a strong, dynamic free market that allows Utah companies to compete and win in the global marketplace."

Hatch and other speakers said they agree with the Trump administration that we need a level playing field in trade with enforceable international rules. Intellectual property rights also must be protected.

Hatch said he wants the president to negotiate strong trade deals that help U.S. workers and businesses compete around the globe. China poses real challenges that need to be addressed. But a targeted strategy dealing with unfair trade practices will serve much better than sweeping tariffs that invite retaliation.

“Our nation did not become the world’s leading economy by chance,” Hatch said. “Much of the reason was the deliberate result of an economic agenda that embraced freer markets and freer trade, setting the stage for the expansion of individual freedom, shared prosperity, and global peace.”