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A ticket to the future: Utah visits Dubai

A Utah trade delegation of 64 people, including Gov. Cox, visited the United Arab Emirates to share ideas and innovation and strengthen relationships

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox stands with chief of staff Jon Pierpont and regional director for trade and diplomacy Franz Kolb in the Museum of the Future in Dubai.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox in the Museum of the Future in Dubai with his chief of staff Jon Pierpont and regional director for trade and diplomacy Franz Kolb on Sept. 14, 2022.

Natalie Gochnour

Editor’s Note: Natalie Gochnour, David Eccles School of Business Associate Dean and Deseret News contributor, traveled with a delegation of business and community leaders on a trade mission led by the World Trade Center Utah to Israel and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Here is an insider’s look at what occurred on the trade mission in the fourth of a six-part series.

Dubai proudly proclaims to all who will listen, “The future is here.” The Utah delegation’s first full day in Dubai was a journey into that future. 

The delegation split into six groups, plus a few one-on-one business meetings and a side trip to Qatar. I traveled with Gov. Spencer Cox to the Dubai Future Foundation and its lab, a meeting with the minister of artificial intelligence and digital economy, a tour of the Museum of the Future, and then lunch with the deputy undersecretary of the ministry of the economy. In the evening, the U.S.-UAE Business Council hosted a reception with the Utah delegation.

That’s a lot to cover in one day. Here are my highlights and lessons learned for Utah leaders.

The Abraham Accords

The landmark Abraham Accords have come up in nearly every meeting I’ve attended in Israel and the UAE. This historic agreement recognizes the State of Israel and normalizes diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, as well as Sudan and Morocco. Prior to the accords, you couldn’t even fly from Tel Aviv to Dubai. The World Trade Center Utah, led by Miles Hansen who helped with the accords before his current job, organized this trade mission to capitalize on this new opportunity.

The Minister of Artificial Intelligence told us that many treatises around the world are designed to help countries “tolerate each other.” He said the Abraham Accords go much deeper. They are designed to help all who sign to “become better.” He told us people originally thought normalization would take three to four years; instead, it took a few days. The minister said, “It was like meeting a cousin. … This is just the beginning.”

What’s the lesson for Utah leaders?

Move past differences. See the future. I can see applications of this principle on topics like Utah’s inland port, the federal government and public lands, homeless services and interfaith relations in our state.

The Dubai Future Foundation

We toured a robotics lab, complete with computers, 3-D printers, motion trackers, robotic platforms, welding and milling stations, and other assembly and fabrication equipment necessary to build and maintain robots. The tour guide proudly proclaimed, “We make robots, tea and coffee.” I noted that there was a tour group before and after us. Dubai is clearly sharing its vision of the future with the world.

What’s the lesson to Utah leaders?

Build platforms to tell the Utah story. We are not doing enough to communicate Utah competencies and successes to the world. Consider featuring Utah’s innovation ecosystem in an open, compelling and iconic way at the Point of the Mountain development and in other venues. 

Gov. Spencer Cox sits at a conference table with the UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence and others.

Gov. Spencer Cox meets with UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence Omar Sultan Al Olama to discuss innovation in the new economy on Sept. 14, 2022

Natalie Gochnour

Artificial intelligence

Cox met with His Excellency Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications in UAE.

Al Olama explained to us that in A.D. 830, the Arab world teemed with intellectual activity, including the famed House of Wisdom, which attracted thinkers from around the world. By 1455, however, when the printing press was invented, the Arab world did not adopt the innovation at the same pace as other regions of the world. Al Olama said, “We don’t want to make the same mistake again.”

That’s why, he said, the UAE is embracing artificial intelligence in such a serious way. “AI is going to change the world,” he said. “If you don’t embrace it, you will be left behind.” He then went on to describe how they begin teaching AI in the fifth grade. By ninth grade, students are doing “serious coding.”

What’s the lesson for Utah leaders?

Bet with the future by including coding into Utah’s public school curriculum early and never stop. Future success of our residents and our state will be based on human talent. We must develop this talent in our schools.

The Museum of the Future

This extraordinary museum, which is housed in what some have called the most beautiful building on earth, invites visitors to see, touch and shape our shared future. Its premise is simple: By going through a journey of possible futures, humanity can bring more hope and knowledge to the present.

They issued us “tickets to the future,” introduced us to a digital avatar and took us through several possible futures, including a docking on an orbital space station and a sustainability/healing the earth institute (complete with a simulation of the Amazon forest). The avatar resides at the museum and frequently referred to us as “pioneers.” We were invited to be “citizen scientists” and toured a library of genetic code. One exhibit featured a quote that said, “The ancestors plant the seeds, the decedents enjoy the shade.” The museum was, in a word, remarkable.

What’s the lesson for Utah leaders?

Embrace the future. Recognize that we are not spectators, but active participants in the future. Whether its water planning, air quality improvements, housing affordability or socio-economic disparities, plant more seeds for future success.

Gov. Spencer Cox exchanges gives with Dubai’s Museum of the Future leadership team.

Gov. Spencer Cox toured Dubai’s Museum of the Future and exchanged gifts with the foundation’s leadership team on Sept. 14, 2022.

Natalie Gochnour

The side trip to Qatar

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and World Trade Center Utah CEO Miles Hansen flew to Doha, Qatar to meet with that country’s leadership and discuss opportunities for strategic partnerships involving higher education, investment and innovation.

Qatar Foundation CEO Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani (the sister of Qatar’s Emir/king, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani) committed to establish a higher education exchange program for students, faculty and interns to create more opportunities for Utahns to study and work in Qatar and for Qataris to gain firsthand experience with the Utah Way. 

Leadership of the Qatar Investment Authority, Qatar’s $445 billion sovereign wealth fund, shared their investment priorities and discussed how World Trade Center Utah can facilitate investment between Utah companies/funds and the investment authority.

The deputy CEO of the Qatar Financial Center committed to visit Utah in 2023 to meet with Utah companies to discuss opportunities to do business in Qatar and pursue contracts and investment from Qatari businesses and government institutions. 

The Utah group traveled to the U.S. embassy to discuss ways the embassy can advocate for Utah companies that are competing for significant contracts in Qatar.

Adams and Hansen were joined in Doha by Utah-based Stirling Foundation CEO Ed Rowe and Stirling Foundation general counsel Jeff McGhie as well as Exxon-Mobile Qatar president Dominic Genetti, a native Utahn.  

What’s the lesson for Utah leaders?

Engage! The world is open for business. When you engage, the world becomes smaller and opportunities become larger. This is what success looks like.

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From left to right, Stirling Foundation CEO Ed Rowe, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, Qatar Foundation CEO and Vice Chair Sheikha Hind bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (sister of Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani), WTC Utah President & CEO Miles Hansen, Exxon-Mobile Qatar President Dominic Genetti, and Stirling Foundation General Counsel Jeff McGhie pictured on Sept. 14, 2022.

Natalie Gochnour

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.