SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's increasing diversity is having an enormous impact on the state in a variety of ways. To maintain that momentum, those efforts must continue long into the future.
That theme was echoed passionately by Gov. Gary Herbert and other notable voices during the Utah Global Forum on Tuesday at the Grand America Hotel.
The annual event — organized by World Trade Center Utah, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Salt Lake Chamber — is dedicated to helping Utah companies of all sizes break into global markets.
"Utah long ago figured out how to harness the value of inclusion and how to use it as an asset to grow the Utah economy," said Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, one of the featured speakers at the one-day event. "What we're seeing (today) is the fruits of that labor."
Utah's decision to consider its growing diversity as an asset rather than a challenge has worked in the state's favor in many ways, Palomarez said.
"(State leaders) have harnessed that asset … to grow businesses, create jobs and create economic development," he said. "It's a template that the rest of the country could pay close attention to. This is how you take differences and diversity and grow an economy."
The forum included two keynote speakers, Palomarez and CNN, ABC News and Telemundo political contributor Ana Navarro, who discussed how recent political headlines and current affairs may impact international business.
More than 400 local business leaders were in attendance for the annual event.
When it comes to international relationships, Utah’s compassionate and welcoming culture is what sets the Beehive State apart, Herbert said.
“Utah companies, large and small, have found success in diversifying their markets, talent and opportunity," the governor said. "By building global partnerships and growing our diverse economy, Utah can weather any economic storm.”
To further take advantage of Utah's growing diversity, the state must create more educational opportunities, Herbert said.
"If you're going to have the best labor force in America, it needs to be more diversified," he said. "That puts the onus on us as a state to make sure we have better education and that there are opportunities for our labor force to develop and learn the skills necessary to compete in what is now a global marketplace."
Currently, Utah has one of the most diversified economies in the country, Herbert noted. That diversity is what has allowed the state to maintain its status as one of the most stable and productive economies in the U.S., he added.
Utah is a major contributor to the nation’s international trade, with more than 55,000 U.S. jobs supported by products exported from the state, according to Derek Miller, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah.
More than 3,500 Utah businesses export internationally — 85 percent of which are small businesses, Miller said.
Diversity has a wide variety of positive connotations, he noted, all of which can be beneficial to Utah's long-term prosperity.
"It certainly helps the state economy to be diverse," Miller said. "Having diversity in your workforce helps in your business. We don't want to have groupthink. We want to have a diversity of opinions, diversity of backgrounds and diversity of experiences."
He said diversity adds to the state's culture and can aid in the development of international business "because we can understand different people's perspectives that live outside the United States."10 comments on this story
Recognizing the positive attributes of diversity can help Utah and the nation become more competitive in the global economy, Miller said. And with 95 percent of the world's population living outside of the U.S., protectionist policies proposed in Washington, D.C., would do little to serve the state's or the nation's interests, he said.
"(Utah) has an opportunity to lead by demonstrating how (embracing diversity) benefits our economy," Miller said. "We can show it, not just by deeds, but in the numbers. Hopefully, other states and leaders will say, 'This is good for our economy. Look how it's worked in Utah.'"