When he travels abroad on trade missions, Gov. Gary Herbert likes to tell his international hosts that Utahns speak nearly 130 foreign languages in business. And to prove his point, he asks those in the Utah delegation to share what languages they speak. He also mentions that these people are fluent in not just the language, but also the country’s culture.
The fact that Utahns are so multilingual and familiar with foreign cultures undoubtedly is a factor in the state’s extraordinary success in international business. Last year, our exports totaled $12 billion. World Trade Center Utah reports that nearly one in four jobs in our state is tied to an export business, and more than 3,500 companies in Utah export. Eighty-five percent of those are small and medium-sized businesses.
Utah’s reputation for economic success both domestically and internationally has attracted the attention of many foreign dignitaries. Several times each month, foreign government officials and international business leaders visit our state to meet with Gov. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. They come to witness for themselves the reasons for our extraordinary accomplishments and to find ways their country can benefit by partnering with Utah and its businesses.
In 2017, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development hosted more than 30 diplomatic visits, including diplomats from Latvia, Austria, China, France, Japan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Brazil. In the last few weeks, Utah has received requests for visits from the ambassador to the United States from Ghana, the ambassadors to the United Nations for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Uzbekistan, the deputy foreign minister from the Republic of Belarus, consuls general from several countries and other business and diplomatic delegations from France, the Congo, Brazil and China.
The number of visits to Utah from international dignitaries is unusual given that Utah is a relatively small state located in the middle of the country. Most foreigners typically only consider East and West coast cities when they think of America. Yet their leaders continue to flock to Utah on a regular basis.
So why do so many diplomats come to our state? Sometimes it is because they want to see for themselves why Utah is doing so well. The Chinese ambassador to the United States visited Utah in the fall of 2016. He said he had not left Washington, D.C., for 18 months but wanted to visit Utah because he had noticed the accolades Utah had been receiving for its economic prosperity. He wanted to learn why we are excelling.
Other dignitaries come because they are invited to speak at our universities. Both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University have strong academic programs that regularly reach out to ambassadors. BYU typically focuses on ambassadors to the United States who are headquartered in Washington, D.C. UVU extends most of its invitations to ambassadors to the United Nations in New York City. The result is a steady flow of dignitaries through our state.
One of the advantages of these ambassadorial visits is that BYU and UVU occasionally piggy back on each other’s visits. An ambassador who is speaking at BYU may also stop for a lecture at UVU, and vice versa. Many students who served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the ambassador’s country or natives from that country come to hear him or her speak. Imagine the ambassadors’ surprise when they are surrounded by American students speaking their language, understanding their culture and aware of current events happening in their country.
In addition to university visits, the ambassadors usually request a visit with Gov. Herbert and leaders of the LDS Church. Some of them take a day or two to visit southern Utah and the national parks or make a few runs on Utah’s ski slopes.Comment on this story
GOED and World Trade Center Utah frequently partner to host luncheons at which Utah’s business community has a chance to meet with the dignitaries. This is a rare opportunity for business leaders wishing to do business in that particular country. A businessman once told of trying unsuccessfully for months to get a meeting with key leaders from a foreign country. The ambassador from that country came to Utah for a visit, and the businessman was able to talk to him face-to-face at the luncheon.
These international dignitaries are very influential in their respective governments and countries. After their visits to Utah, they typically become good friends of the state and frequently return to their countries singing Utah’s praises to their peers and fellow countrymen. In a sense, many of the world’s official ambassadors become unofficial, enthusiastic ambassadors for Utah.