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Scott G. Winterton, Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Gov. Gary Herbert holds up a Chinese paper at a luncheon for U.S. governors and a delegation from China.

SALT LAKE CITY — The actual distance between the United States and China is about 7,200 miles, but that gap is beginning to close — sort of.

Utah is making great strides in developing — what many civic and business leaders hope will be — long lasting relationships with their counterparts in the most populous nation in the world.

This week, the Beehive State's capital city hosted three provincial governors and a high-ranking Communist Party leader for the first-ever U.S. and China Trade, Culture and Education Conference aimed at forging ongoing ties between businesses in two of the world's most economically powerful countries.

"The Chinese are very savvy business people," said Jeff Edwards, president of Economic Development Corp. of Utah. "Having them come to Utah and see (what the state has to offer) with their own eyes (is a great opportunity)."

Edwards said Utah has many advantages that other states may not have, including a population that has many fluent Chinese language speakers and people familiar with the ancient conservative culture of China.

"What a nice resource to have," he commented. China is also interested in Utah's vast natural resource base, he added, as well as alternative energy technology and the state's oil and natural gas exploration expertise.

That knowledge is what brought many Chinese business and industry leaders to the conference at the Little America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday.

One of the companies networking at the event was Qinghai Wutong Group Co. Ltd. — a large ferroalloy mining and production firm based in Qinghai province, which is Utah's sister state in China. Through a translator, general manager and senior engineer Wang QiMin said his company is interested in learning more about emerging technologies in the iron alloy mining industry.

"I came here to exchange ideas about energy saving and low carbon-emission issues," he said.

He also said his company would like to develop relationships with American companies that could be mutually beneficial to both sides in the long run.

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development said the forum is the initial step in building one of the key components of the business rapport in the Chinese culture.

"The Chinese really value the relationship portion of the business transaction," said Spencer Eccles. "It comes down to trust. It takes time and you have to work at it."

He said hosting an event of such magnitude is historic and important to the long-range future of Utah-China relations.

"(The forum) illustrates the momentum Utah has, the global nature of the world we live in and Utah's place in global business activities," Eccles said.

He noted that one of Utah's biggest advantages is its strength in the information and technology sector.

"We have to understand that we have to compete via innovation," Eccles said. "If we don't, then we'll be left behind."

"As we go forward … we need to continue to draw countries like China (to Utah) and continue to produce on the innovation side (which will) equate to jobs," he said.

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com