Utah has long been known as the crossroads of the west, but leaders at the Utah Global Forum Thursday put forth the idea that Utah can be the crossroads of the world.
Economic leaders, business men and women, educators and students gathered Thursday at the Grand America Hotel for the annual Utah Global Forum.
Miles Hansen, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, explained that a thriving crossroads includes a highly skilled workforce, a high quality of life, an ecosystem of innovation and collaboration and the ability to efficiently move manufactured products. He believes that all describes Utah.
“In Utah, we have all we need to move forward,” Hansen said.
Gov. Gary Herbert said participation in the global economy takes cooperation and inclusiveness. International trade is critical to sustainable business growth, and trading outside the state’s borders is vital to Utah’s economic prosperity.
“Our approach is a little different than some you hear of out there. When it comes to higher tariffs and trade wars and protectionism — that’s not what we’re doing in Utah. We understand we want to have mutually beneficial trade,” Herbert said. “We want win-win relationships …. Our top priority is to, in fact, not only help our economy, but to help people grow their economy and their countries.”
Ben Stein, economist, actor and author and the keynote speaker for the forum, explained that free trade, where both parties benefit, is how countries grow and prosper. He applauded Utah leaders for their vision in this respect, and for moving forward with plans for an inland port.
While declaring himself a fan of President Donald Trump, he came down hard against the current trade war.
“We all want fair trade. We do not want theft of intellectual property, we do not want tariffs that are excessive on our goods, but we do not want a trade war. And we don’t need tariffs except as a means of leveling the playing field,” Stein said. “Trade wars, waged with tariffs, are no one’s idea of a good time. Let’s leave them well enough alone until we need them on a life or death basis. And we are very, very far from needing them on a life or death basis.”
Zhu Hong, commercial affairs minister of the Chinese embassy to the United States, echoed Stein’s sentiments on trade during a breakout session focused on competing internationally.
“A trade war is not good for anybody,” he said, explaining that the historical lessons from China-U.S. trade over the last 40 years attests to that. “When we are in cooperation, it helps both countries. When we are in competition, it hurts both.”
Five university and college presidents addressed how to move forward globally through education. The all-female panel — representing Utah Valley University, Westminster College, Salt Lake Community College, Utah State University and the University of Utah — encouraged support of education in Utah because of its worth in cultivating students’ ability to compete abroad.
“The world today is both bigger and smaller, and globalization is a real thing,” said Astrid Tuminez, UVU president. As Utah grows, she added, “Our people need to know how to work with other people.”
Graduates and business leaders who appreciate, understand and value other cultures will be economically successful in those countries, and global relationships are crucial, panelists said. Bethami Dobkin, Westminster president, said it is important for those wanting to compete and trade internationally to be immersed globally. Those who are “tourist travelers” in other countries — who don’t take in those cultures — cannot find true success, she asserted.
This sentiment was reemphasized by Hong’s fellow panelists, all representatives from important international trading partners. They said many businesses fail when opening in new countries, because they do not understand the regulations, culture and markets of those areas. Panelists suggested patience and doing in-depth research.
“You need to be properly prepared,” said Jose Borjon, head consul of Mexico stationed in Salt Lake City. “You must get a better sense of the country, of the differences.”
Two business leaders and one company earned awards Thursday for their success abroad, and their influence both in Utah and beyond.
Stan Rees earned the forum’s lifetime achievement award for his 36 years’ work in international business and his efforts in training and mentoring others through forming the Global Business Center at Salt Lake Community College. David Utrilla, chief international officer at UVU, was honored as the international person of the year for international business success and work on boards promoting others’ efforts.
Lifetime Products was given the international company of the year award. Lifetime manufactures its chairs, tables and sheds in Utah and China, and has warehouses in Mexico and France.