Editor’s Note: Natalie Gochnour, David Eccles School of Business associate dean and Deseret News columnist, is traveling this week with a delegation of business and community leaders on a trade mission led by World Trade Center Utah to Jordan and Israel. She joins Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, three other Utah legislators and about 40 other business and community leaders interested in establishing stronger business ties with Jordan and Israel. The Deseret News asked Gochnour to document the trade mission through a series of dispatches that will be featured this week. This first column focuses on why Utah government and business leaders visit the Middle East.
Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser hosted a news conference from Rice Eccles Stadium to announce the formation of an exploratory committee to seek the 2026 or 2030 Olympic Winter Games. This week, Herbert and Niederhauser are in Jordan and Israel securing stronger business ties for the Beehive State.
What do these two events have in common? They demonstrate Utah’s commitment, at the highest levels of government, to grow the Utah economy and share Utah’s economic message with the world.
“We have more in common with Jordan than you think,” said Herbert at the opening business briefing hosted by the U.S. Commercial Service at the Four Seasons Hotel in Amman, Jordan. Herbert went on to describe Jordan’s role as the crossroads of the Middle East, just like Utah is the crossroads of the Western United States.
The similarities don’t end there. Both Jordan and Utah have large and growing service-sector economies, both have arid climates and water development needs and both are socially conservative places with significant cultural capital. Alcohol consumption in Jordan and Utah is relatively low per capita, and both have large religious majorities. Jordan and Utah even share common physical features with a large, inland salty sea, a river called Jordan, a mountain called Nebo and stunning red-rock landscapes.
There are a lot of differences, too. Jordan is 7,000 miles away from Utah. I saw two camels as I traveled from the airport to the hotel last night and have relished the chickpeas, figs and olives served with each meal. Jordan’s population is more than three times larger than Utah’s and the country’s form of government resembles a monarchy. People here refer to their country as “the kingdom.”
But we live in the era of globalization. People and places are connected like never before. I’ve met a half-dozen people here already with ties to Utah. I even learned today that His Majesty King Abdullah II has stealthily dirt-biked in the Beehive State!
Our most important connection is commerce. Utah exported about $4.9 million worth of products to Jordan last year. This was more than double the amount in 2015 and included fabricated metal products, computer and electronic products, chemicals and plastics, to name a few. Financial, health care, education and legal services are also part of the economic mix.
Fred Aziz serves as a commercial counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan. He told the Utah delegation, “When you go back to Utah, let people know that this is a place that welcomes Americans and loves American products.” He said, “Help people get past their biases.”
The Utah delegation is doing just that. Delegation businesses represent a diverse group of industries, including health care, energy, legal services, translation services, software, banking, media, defense, aerospace and education. In each case, they have a compelling reason to be here.
Red Leaf is a great example. This research and development company that specializes in tar sands controls over 500 million barrels of oil resources in Utah. It licenses its technology to projects in Jordan. Red Leaf has six executives on this trip making connections with the U.S. Commercial Service, the American Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Embassy and potential customers.
Herbert inherited the reins of the state during the most significant economic downturn in most Utahns' lives. Early in his administration, he set a goal to make Utah a premier global business destination. He’s been relentless in that pursuit.
The Utah economy is strong because business and community leaders invest their time, energy and talent in building a well-diversified, vital and growing economy. The world got to know us during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. We’ve continued to share our economic message ever since. Jordan may be half a world away, but the Utah economy benefits when we engage with the world.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.