With the U.S.-China relationship waffling between antagonistic and somewhat conciliatory (on the U.S. side), many are looking for a glimmer of hope. If there is hope for the U.S.-China relationship, and for returning to increased global economic integration, it will come from Utah in this and the next generation. Why?
Utah’s Roots Reveal Its Desire to Embrace the World
Brigham Young, Utah’s first governor, is famous for stating that Utah would one day welcome the world to its state. That statement has been baked into the ethos of Utahns for generations, from both religious and economic perspectives. Utah hosted the world for the 2002 Winter Olympics and recently became one of two finalists for hosting the 2030 Winter Olympics. Utahns believe internationalism is key to their economic purpose: that being open and outward facing to the world makes Utah more competitive. Utah’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development hosts more than 60 diplomatic visits from up to 30 nations each year.
Utah Residents Speak 130 Languages, More Than Any Other State
Even though the state’s composition is 87% Caucasian, Utah resident speak 130 languages, which is more than any other state in the U.S., and 120 of those languages are spoken for business purposes. Many Utah residents and their family members have lived abroad for lengthy periods of time. They have learned the languages in-country and appreciate international cultures. As a result, they see the world’s citizens differently, not as outsiders who threaten their existence but as friends to embrace and with whom to do business.
Utah’s Schoolchildren Are Learning Foreign Languages in Dual Immersion Programs
Utah is home to 3.2 million people, which is less than 1% of the U.S. population, but its schoolchildren comprise 20% of those in Mandarin dual language immersion programs nationwide.
Utah’s many residents who speak foreign languages have pushed for more internationalism in their schools, wanting to provide more opportunities for their children to be competitive internationally in their future careers. In 2008 the Utah Senate created the Critical Language Bill with the support of then-Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (who is fluent in Mandarin from time spent in Taiwan as a young man). The primary sponsor of the bill, then-Senator Howard Stephenson, had traveled to China and determined Utah should be the vanguard state in producing school age children fluent in Chinese and other foreign languages. Utah’s dual language program was born out of those efforts. Utah initially aimed to have 30,000 children in its dual language programs by 2015, and that goal was met in 2014. This year there are over 53,000 students enrolled. Children in the dual language immersion programs begin in first grade, where they spend half their school days learning in Chinese, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Russian in one of 224 school programs. The dual language immersion program has never been tainted by political concerns. Utah’s legislative and executive branches have been in sync in their desire to have Utah’s children stand out among their peers. Utah is home to 3.2 million people, which is less than 1% of the U.S. population, but its schoolchildren comprise 20% of those in Mandarin dual language immersion programs nationwide. As these children mature and enter the workforce (the first class graduated high school in May 2019), they will have nearly earned a minor in the foreign language they have been speaking since they were in elementary school.
Utah’s Companies, its Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), and World Trade Center Utah Are Export-Focused
Recently I sat down with Miles Hansen, the CEO of World Trade Center Utah. We discussed Utah’s continued optimism regarding U.S.-China and U.S.-everywhere international relations. Like the rest of us, he acknowledged concerns with the effects of the trade war, but he remained optimistic about Utah companies’ abilities to continue to thrive and be resilient in China and elsewhere. When I asked him if Utah is still the “belle of the ball” vis-à-vis most other states, he confirmed that Utah’s economic growth continues to be a topic of conversation among state economic development agencies and that international trade plays a significant role in Utah’s success. Utah, known as the “Crossroads of the West”, is positioning itself further to be a logistics hub for domestic and international trade, adding an inland port that is expected to be completed in the coming years. Utah is one of the few states in the U.S. with a trade surplus, which is why Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Utah to speak about USMCA (NAFTA 2.0).
On May 11, the day after tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports were raised to 25% from 10%, I attended the Utah-China Trade and Investment Forum in Salt Lake City. This event was co-sponsored by World Trade Center Utah (WTCU) and China’s Chamber of International Commerce (CCOIC) and was the culmination of months of coordination on both sides. I was amazed to see over 85 Chinese government officials present, including Xu Xueyuan, Minister from the PRC Embassy in Washington, D.C., the #2 diplomat from China to the United States. Speeches were given in English and Chinese, with real time translations into both languages and a host of university students providing real-time translation for face to face interactions among attendees. Other notable Chinese attendees included the Deputy Secretary General from Jiangxi Province, the Vice Mayor of Yancheng Municipal Government in Jiangsu Province, the Deputy Secretary General of the China Chamber of International Commerce, the President of the US-China Guangdong Chamber of Commerce, and the General Representative in the US for the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). The forum definitely had some tension in the air, but the Chinese delegation seemed to recognize that subnational cooperation (Chinese Provinces to U.S. States and trade group interactions) was the best hope for two national governments at each other’s throats.
Key Utah companies with international ties enthusiastically welcomed the Chinese delegation. The President of the Utah Jazz discussed the importance of the Chinese market to the NBA. doTERRA’s head of International Market, China, South Asia described doTERRA’s entry into the China market in 2014 and its desire for continued growth and connection to Chinese consumers. doTERRA’s head of Global Communications, Government Relations, discussed her three children who are in a Chinese language dual immersion program. USANA’s Executive VP of China (who speaks Chinese), and a President of NU SKIN Enterprise Groviv Systems all spoke in extremely warm terms (NU SKIN’s general counsel, who attended but didn’t speak at the event, is fluent in Mandarin). Val Hale from Utah’s GOED encouraged the delegation by stating, “We are excited and prepared to do business with China” and “You are welcome in Utah.”
Utah Continues to Lead Other U.S. States in Economic Development
Utah’s economic accolades in recent years are hard to ignore:
#1 Best Performing Large City (Milliken Institute 2019)
#2 Best Place in America to Start a Business (Inc. 2019)
#2 Best Economy (U.S. News & World Report 2019)
#2 State for Small Business Lending (Lendio 2019)
#3 Best Economy (24/7 Wall Street 2019)
#4 Top State for Business (CNBC 2019)
#1 State for Private Sector Job Growth (State Policy Report 2018)
#1 State for Entrepreneurs (Amazon 2018)
#1 State for the Middle Class (SmartAsset 2018)
#2 Best State for Business (Forbes 2018)
#2 Best State to Start a Business (WalletHub 2018)
#1 State for Upward Mobility (Bloomberg 2017)
#1 Broadband Speeds in Western U.S. (Akamai 2017)
Jon Huntsman, Jr. is Returning Home to Utah
Jon Huntsman, Jr. is returning home to Utah after serving a two-year stint as U.S. ambassador to Russia. Huntsman is a towering political and economic figure in Utah. He previously served as ambassador to Singapore (1992-1993) and China (2009-2011). He was the Utah governor who signed off on Utah’s dual language immersion program. He is fluent in Mandarin and has probably picked up some Russian by now. He could run again for governor of Utah or maybe even President of the U.S. He’s a spry 59 and he has a lot of energy left to devote to Utah’s economic growth and ambitions.
Utah Welcomes the United Nations this Week
This week Salt Lake City, Utah is hosting the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference, the first time this annual conference has been held in the U.S. outside of UN headquarters in New York. With thousands of representatives from countries around the world, this again showcases Utah’s ability to engage with the world on a scale well-above its expected impact for its size.
Utah’s businesses are engaging with the world, and Utah is preparing tens of thousands of its schoolchildren to do the same. Where Utah leads, other states will follow, and if they don’t, it will be Utah’s students leading the future U.S. workforce in global trade and international relations. Our firm represents a disproportionate number of Utah companies in their international matters, and our interactions continue to give us insight into why Utah companies see the world differently and how they are positioning themselves for success within the international business community.