Utah joins global competition for China's economic attention

Published: Sunday, April 10 2011 3:17 p.m. MDT

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert meets with the mayor of Wu Han City during a banquet on Sunday in Beijing.

Bob Brown, Deseret News

BEIJING — As Gov. Gary Herbert strode up steep steps at the Great Wall, he marveled at the iconic landmark as a symbol of China.

"It's big," Herbert said Sunday. "Everything here is big."

It's known as the "Middle Kingdom," and these days China is the middle of the world's economy, boasting the globe's most prodigious population, with galloping economic growth to match.

Herbert is leading a trade mission to Beijing and Shanghai this week in hopes of doubling Utah exports in the next five years.

"Really, it's about jobs in Utah," Herbert said of his first visit to Asia. "We're here in China trying to find ways that we can interface with them, which will help the economic opportunity in Utah."

More than 40 people joined the trip — including representatives from 20 companies, four Utah lawmakers and members of the governor's economic team.

One challenge is competition from other countries and U.S. states also looking to grow, said Brett Heimburger, regional director for Asia in the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

Five other states also dispatched delegations to talk to the Chinese just this week. And meetings with key Chinese officials are getting harder to arrange, Heimburger said.

"It's just been a revolving door of people wanting to meet with them," he told the Utah group on the bus ride back from the Great Wall.

The group's busy schedule includes meetings over five days with senior Chinese leaders; a briefing on best practices for doing business in China, hosted by the U.S. Embassy; and a networking event with the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

The trip comes just as Herbert's predecessor and former running mate, Jon Huntsman Jr., prepares to leave his post as the U.S. Ambassador to China. Huntsman was set to host a networking reception for Utah companies at the ambassador's residence Monday evening.

"Having Ambassador Huntsman in Beijing highlights Utah," said Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

The Utah group includes executives from companies such as Salt Lake City-based Ceramatec, which develops advanced ceramic technology in the clean-tech sector; and Doba, an Orem e-commerce software company that links wholesale suppliers and manufacturers with online retailers.

Jeremy Hanks, Doba's co-founder and president, said he made the trip to help map out his company's future.

"As China has this emerging middle class that is growing rapidly, how does it play out?" Hanks said.

A variety of companies and organization sent representatives — including Nu Skin, USANA, Utah Valley University, Zions Bank and Utah Regional Investment Fund.

Utah's legislative delegation includes Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Reps. David Clark, R-Santa Clara; Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns; and Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.

Tourism officials, armed with stacks of colorful brochures written in Chinese, with beauty shots of Utah's national parks, planned to attend a trade show for tour operators.

"China's travel market has been important and is getting more important," said Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.

U.S. visits by Chinese travelers has risen 232 percent in the past decade, von der Esch said.

"Last year alone it went up 52 percent, and we're expecting in this year alone it will go up over 200 percent," she said. "It's a big market for us."

Email: jdaley@desnews.com

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