OREM — Utah and China may seem like they're worlds apart. The Beehive State's population of 2.7 million is dwarfed by the Asian giant's 1.3 billion people.
But the possibilities to increase trade there are impressive, according to speakers at Thursday's "Doing Business with China" conference at Utah Valley University.
"There's huge opportunities in China," said international businessman Manny Menendez, the event's keynote speaker. "It's a huge market that markets over $2 trillion in domestic sales. It's the second largest luxury market in the world."
But the sheer size and cultural differences can be daunting.
Michael Hawkins, whose California-based company Millennium Energy builds and manages coal-fired power plants, summed up the hesitation: "Really the apprehensions are, how do you find the right people, or how do you do business there?"
The event kicked off with the signing of an agreement between World Trade Center Utah and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, aimed at getting both sides to commit to cooperate on strengthening economic relations.
It comes on the heels of Gov. Gary Herbert's recent weeklong trade mission to China — and highlights the growing interest here with the world's second largest economy.
"I do think we're on the cusp of something here," said Norman Wright, the dean of UVU's Woodbury School of Business, who joined the China trade mission. "We've done some things with China here in Utah in the past, but I think it's just going to grow."
UVU said it hosted the event to share knowledge and to give students and entrepreneurs a chance to network with those already doing business there. Breakout sessions at the event included topics like financial logistics, outsourcing, franchising and licensing and legal issues.
Some say they came knowing they plan to do business in China, but need guidance.
Hawkins called it "an amazing opportunity for the energy industry. My interest is learning how to go in and partner yourself with the right people, the right situation in China in order to ensure your success there."
Menendez, who has been working in China and the Asia Pacific region for the past 30 years, gave the attendees tips. He said those looking to do business there need to think about adding value and benefit to the Chinese economy.
"Go giving rather than receiving," he said, noting it was important to take time to find a suitable local partner and "do your homework." Also, he said, "Don't think about it too big."
Shanghai has a population equal to Australia; Sichuan Province has the population of Japan. He encouraged businesses to focus on a specific city.
"What I'm saying is don't think about China in its largest context," said Menendez. "Think about a city that your product or your service makes (sense and) work within that city and expand from there."
Menendez also aimed to demystify China, calling both its poor reputation on human rights and corruption outdated.
"China is making progress, but it takes time."
Utah seems poised to enhance trade relationships in China, and globally, because of the state's language proficiency, in part due to its large numbers of returned LDS missionaries.
"You've got this group of individuals who have language skills, they lived abroad, they've developed some affinity for other cultures, and then they're pretty highly educated as well," Wright said.
No other state can compare, per capita, when it comes to its residents speaking multiple languages — and the variety of languages spoken here, he said.