The Crossroads of the West is increasingly an intersection other countries have on their radar. Utah is becoming a bigger player in the global market, export numbers suggest, and local officials say there’s no reason the climb can’t continue.
Exports from the Beehive State have increased from $6.1 billion in 2005 to $19.03 billion in 2011 and support approximately 96,086 jobs in the state, says Lew Cramer, president of the World Trade Center Utah.
Gold and silver refined in Utah, much of it from out of state, accounts for a high percentage of the state’s exports, but it hardly stops there. Air bags, medical devices, semiconductors, brine shrimp from Great Salt Lake, exercise equipment, wood shavings, hay and machinery parts for heavy equipment and aircraft are also among the items being shipped from Utah to the far parts of the world.
Food products also make up approximately $353 million of that export number.
The United Kingdom imports the biggest amount of the state’s shipments, the numbers show, followed by China and Canada.
Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office for Economic Development, suggests Utah appears poised for even better things in the coming decade.
He describes the growth as the result of strategic targeting by the state in what he describes as a cluster approach.
Cluster in this case means identifying specific groups of products that Utah companies specialize in and selling them to targeted international markets. Those clusters include medical devices, outdoor retailing and aerospace composites, among others.
“Just as the Silicon Valley has its strong options and synergies, we have our cluster groups. ... We are creating companies particularly proficient in making those products on an international scale,” Sullivan says of the state business community.
Others see the same pattern of growth.
“I think we’re positioned for sustained growth in all of the different industry sectors,” David Fiscus, director of the Salt Lake City Export Assistance Center, says of state numbers.
The center is a service provided for local businesses by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Cramer predicts exports could potentially double in the next five years.
“Utah is a growing state. We have the (helpful) attributes of low regulation and taxes, and we have an international attitude,” he says.
In the Kauffman Foundation’s 2010 New State Economy Index, Utah ranked No. 6 overall in the annual ranking, taking over the top spot as most-improved export state.
That growth comes even as Utah’s neighbors are slipping backwards.
Fiscus suggests one of the reasons Utah has not been hit as hard as its neighbors during the soft economy is the number of local companies selling overseas.
Many exporters were able to hang on to local jobs during the recent downturn just because they ship product out of the United States, he says.
There are 2,800 Utah companies involved in exports. Most of those companies are enterprises with fewer than 500 employees, according to data provided by the International Trade Administration.
Broken down into small components, $831 million of those exports are linked to the Ogden-Clearfield area, while $287 million is linked to the Cache Valley area.
Cramer says Utah is learning to use its location as the Crossroads of the West to its advantage, as it is easy to strategically reach ports all along the West Coast within a day’s time.
He says the state’s good infrastructure facilitates the highest percentage of trucks on the road in the West and notes logistics companies in the Beehive State move product at an increasingly rapid pace out of the country.
“I spent most of my career on the East Coast, and those roads suck. Not only do we have the infrastructure, but we have the people,” Cramer says.
There are some intangible elements to people living in the Beehive State, too, which are all part of this growing formula, several business leaders say.
Cramer notes a high-ranking diplomat from China visited Salt Lake City recently. A first-grade class sang to him in Mandarin, and two of three mayors who greeted him also spoke in Mandarin.
“You just don’t see that. The world view is a lot bigger than we think. We speak the language,” Cramer says of the international business community.
Fiscus notes that the state’s high number of people who have been abroad shrinks world markets to a different view for local companies.
“The mystique of the unknown or the mystery around it is not quite what it might be for other countries. The sense of familiarity is engaging,” he says of the high percentage of Utah residents who speak more than one language.
Cramer is increasingly involved in hosting international visitors, from princes to heads of state, who have Utah on their map.
“Many of them had never heard of Utah but know about the Grand Canyon and Moab,” he says.
“We’re not just a flyover state now.”