The world watched last week as Secretary of State John Kerry led a delegation of diplomats and elected officials to Cuba for the historic reopening of the U.S. embassy. Joining the president’s envoy was a single Republican, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake. For those who have followed the political career of the junior senator from Arizona, his willingness to stand apart and sometimes even alone is not surprising.
Flake made a name for himself fighting against congressional earmarks during his 12 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, at a time when earmarks were as ubiquitous as interns on Capitol Hill. As a reward for being a lone voice in the wilderness, congressional leadership in both parties seemed happy to keep him there. That was then. Now, if there is such a thing as justice in politics, Flake is widely recognized for his founding role in the current congressional earmark ban.
While he may have been a thorn in the side of the Beltway establishment, he was building a committed base of support among voters in his home state. Flake turned that support into a successful candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2012, where he continues to chart his own course, as evidenced by the recent trip to Cuba. Noteworthy are the facts that this wasn’t Flake’s first visit to Cuba and normalizing relations has been a long-standing policy position, not a bandwagon he just jumped on.
Explaining his position, Flake has said, “This is, fundamentally, an issue of freedom. U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba aren’t restrictions on Cubans — they are restrictions on Americans. I’ve long said if a government is going to tell its citizens where they can and can’t travel, it ought to be a communist country, not the greatest country in the world.”
The U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba is not the only issue on which Flake has distinctive views. For example, he has developed thoughtful policy positions on immigration, Iran nuclear negotiations and his ongoing quest to address the relentless national debt. The senator’s views are especially intriguing given his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When someone with his public policy background and access to national intelligence speaks, those interested in foreign affairs should listen.
Utahns will have that opportunity this week when Flake gives the keynote address at the annual Utah Global Forum. The forum is hosted by Gov. Gary Herbert and presented in partnership with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the World Trade Center Utah. This is one of many opportunities around the state to learn about current affairs and business trends, with an emphasis on practical ideas for growing businesses large and small through exporting opportunities and attracting foreign direct investment.
At the Utah Global Forum, companies will have the opportunity to learn from experts in the areas of global finance, supply chain, international marketing and cybersecurity. The forum will conclude with remarks from Herbert, who will share his thoughts on Utah’s place in the global economy. The governor’s overarching vision statement has always included an international component, specifically that “Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination.”
A key component to achieving that vision is to increase the state’s exports; Herbert has set a goal to increase value-added exports by $1.4 billion by 2020. As one of only a few states that operate with a trade surplus, and with more than 300,000 jobs tied to exports, growing this important part of Utah’s diverse economy is essential to sustaining the state’s No. 1 position for job creation in the U.S.
Seventy percent of the world’s purchasing power is outside of the U.S. Eighty-five percent of the world’s economic growth occurs outside of the U.S. And 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S. More than ever, Utah companies need the skills and knowledge to grow business beyond our borders. Even companies that aren’t focused on international market expansion must be aware of what is happening in the world around them, because occurrences in the global economy impact their business. Taking advantage of the opportunity to hear from national and local leaders on these important issues at the Utah Global Forum is a great place to start.
Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.