Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has a long history of strong ties to the United Kingdom, with many Utahns able to track their familial lineage to Great Britain.
More recently, those ties have been broadened and strengthened through the state’s burgeoning export economy.
Speaking before an audience of local business leaders Wednesday at the Salt Lake Chamber, Sir Peter Westmacott, British ambassador to the United States, touted the U.K.'s business relationship with the U.S. and its importance to both countries.
“We are very proud of the fact that we are the No. 1 export market overseas for Utah,” he said. “We would like to see that continue to grow.”
The links between Utah and Britain run deep, with 31 percent of Utah exports — valued at nearly $6 billion per year — bound for the U.K. That's more than double the percentage of any other state.
Among other topics, Westmacott discussed the benefits that a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and European Union would bring to Utah, including significant economic growth and thousands of local jobs.
“The work that we’ve done with independent economists and researchers suggests the exports of Utah to the European Union would go up by 65 percent if we had a comprehensive free trade agreement,” he explained. “It would be particularly strong for employment and trade between the United Kingdom and Utah.”
From 2003 to 2012, Utah's total global exports increased or stayed the same every year, including nearly doubling exports from 2008 to 2012. Exports to the U.K. have followed a similar growth pattern, followed by a decline in 2013 due to decreased volume and price in metal exports, according to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Over the past decade, Utah was the only state in the country with export growth each year. The state’s merchandise exports increased by more than 300 percent since 2006, reaching a record $19 billion in 2012.
During that growth period, much of the increase could be attributed to the rising cost of gold and silver — key exports that put Utah among of the fastest growing export markets in the nation, according to GOED.
In 2011, Gov. Gary Herbert challenged businesses throughout Utah to double their output of exports from 2009, with a goal of reaching $20 billion by the end of this year.
Last year, the state exported a broad range of goods, including animal products, aircraft engines, automotive parts, electronics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, sporting goods, and industrial goods such as valves, drilling tools and fuses.
Those growing export sectors were supported by nearly 66,000 jobs across the state. Utah’s increasing profile in the financial services sector has also made the state a focal point for international banking interests as well, said Spencer Eccles, GOED executive director.
“Utah is now the fourth-largest office for (Goldman Sachs) worldwide,” Eccles said. “It puts us on the map (with) London, the financial capital of Europe.”
Continuing to build on that foundation will help raise Utah’s profile even higher on the global economic stage, he said.
“This is a key component and could add to our economy,” Eccles said.