It was unfortunate the way Utah got dragged into the London Olympics even before they had begun, pulled there by a political fight it had nothing to do with. Prime Minister David Cameron likely didn't mean to insult Utahns by saying Mitt Romney had a relatively easy time organizing games in the "middle of nowhere." The Salt Lake City Olympics were conducted amid tensions immediately surrounding the attacks of 9/11, which made them a logistical and security challenge, even if it's true that the Wasatch Front is surrounded by vast stretches of seemingly endless desert.
But that's politics, a world in which insults obscure truth. In this case, the truth is Utah and the United Kingdom have many close ties and an astonishingly great deal in common. Utahns, of all people, should rejoice in the success of the just-completed London games. The Olympic spirit, which blessed this community so richly 10 years ago, was kept alive and well along the Thames.
Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson may not be aware of it, but Britain is the No. 1 export destination for Utah companies. The competition isn't even close. Utah's exports to the United Kingdom totalled $4.4 billion in 2010. That was more than three times the amount exported to the second-place finisher, Canada, according to figures provided by the British Consulate in Los Angeles.
That puts Utah in second place in terms of the merchandise value of exports to the U.K. among states, beating such heavyweights as California, Texas and Massachusetts. Most of these exports are in the form of primary metals, such as gold.
It's a two-way street. British-owned companies employ 6,600 people in Utah, which is nearly 2,000 more than second-place France among jobs tied to foreign-owned companies.
But the business relationship tells only a small part of the story. Many thousands of Utahns trace their ancestory to England. Census Bureau figures released earlier this year showed that four of the top five U.S. cities in terms of British ancestry are Cedar City, St. George, Provo and Logan. The top of the list is Rexburg, Idaho, a nearby city with many ties to Utah, as well. All told, 10 of the top 16 cities in the United States in terms of British ancestry are in Utah. Salt Lake City ranks No. 1 among major metro areas in the same measurement.
Without British immigrants, Utah probably would look and feel considerably different. An estimated 100,000 of them came here in the 19th century as converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to the Gordon B. Hinckley Endowment in British Studies at the University of Utah. This shaped many traditions in Utah, including its noted choral groups and live theater productions. As the U.'s website notes, the Tony Award winning Shakespearian Festival in Cedar City is a direct result of that tradition.
Political comments aside, Utah and Britain are close cousins. As residents of one Olympic city to the other, we salute them for a job well done.
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