Nation's governors coming to Utah for annual meeting

Published: Friday, July 8 2011 6:12 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — President Barack Obama turned down an invitation to come to Utah next week, but at least one GOP presidential candidate is expected here — Jon Huntsman Jr.

A sizable Chinese delegation including four provincial leaders has already RSVP'd, as have many of the nation's governors — all for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association at the Grand America Hotel, July 15-17.

The gathering is also attracting other events to Utah, including a U.S.-China trade conference organized by state economic development officials and a Senate Finance Committee field hearing on Medicaid convened by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

"This is a very big deal," Gov. Gary Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said, not only for Herbert as the host governor but also for the state. "It is an opportunity to showcase Utah."

A state luncheon at the Governor's Mansion Thursday will kick off the meeting and Herbert will be ready to talk about everything from handcart pioneers to the meaning of the Golden Spike design on the Utah state quarter.

The governors will also have the opportunity to attend a reception at the Utah Museum of Natural History, a picnic at Red Butte Garden, an aerial ski show at the Utah Olympic Park and a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

They'll also have the opportunity to participate in a bobsled race at the Olympic park that will pit eastern governors against their western counterparts. The cost of hosting the governors, about $1.5 million, is all being raised privately.

Herbert, the chairman of the association's economic development and commerce committee, will lead a two-hour session on international trade and investment. He'll also be part of a roundtable discussion on using higher education to increase the nation's competitiveness.

Isom said the governor will "tout Utah's culture, our way of life, our values and the principles that drive our policies especially in terms of fiscal responsibility and budgeting" and prioritizing education.

Other topics that will be tackled include Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's take on U.S. border security post 9/11. Brewer has become a national figure for backing Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration legislation.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who served as U.S. health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush, will be part of a panel on health insurance exchanges.

Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman will speak on advancing competitiveness at Sunday's closing session. Other guest speakers include Susan Hockfield, Massachusetts Institute of Technology president, and John Seely Brown, Xerox Corp.'s former chief scientist.

There's a special forum at the NGA meeting Friday for the Chinese leaders, who are bringing an entourage of some 80 staff members plus an additional 50 or so journalists from China. The rest of the time they'll be part of the separate U.S.-China 2011 trade conference headquartered at the Little America hotel.

"It's historic," said Lew Cramer, head of the Utah World Trade Center and a conference organizer. "This is the first time four provincial governors have gotten together with their counterparts."

Cramer said some 400 people are expected to attend the trade conference, intended to create new business opportunities in China for companies from Utah as well as the rest of the United States.

He said he's hoping Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, will be able to spend time with the Chinese provincial leaders. Cramer accompanied both Huntsman and Herbert to China on Utah trade missions.

Having the Chinese leaders here for the conference is key to future business deals, he said.

"High level political involvement guarantees high level business," Cramer said. "There's a lot of excitement around this."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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