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In his January 2010 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama shared his vision for the future of U.S. exports. “We need to export more of our goods,” he said. “Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.”
The admonition was attached to an aggressive goal—to double national exports over the next five years. Reaching this goal, the president said, would support two million jobs in America. “We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,” he added. “If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.”
To find a blueprint for meeting such a high mark, look no further than Utah, the only state in the union to double its exports over the past five years. In 2010, the state logged $13.57 billion in exports, up from $6.07 billion in 2005.
Fueling the Growth
What is responsible for the significant export spike of the past half decade? According to Lew Cramer, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, there’s no one singular factor. And that’s a good thing. Thanks to a diverse economy, Utah is seeing a rise in exports across a wide range of industries.
For the past 150 years, the top spot on Utah’s export list has remained unchanged. Primary metals again led the way in 2010, topping $7.6 billion and accounting for just over half of the state’s total exports. The metals industry, however, is not the only sector that is growing.
“The biggest growth area for us is in the high-tech area,” Cramer says. “We are seeing phenomenal expansion in conductor chips, such as those created by IM Flash Technologies in Lehi. If they have a good month, Utah has a good month.”
The state’s colleges and universities have also been successful in creating and marketing technology products—especially in the medical device area—that are appealing to buyers outside of the United States.
“When you expand your exports, particularly in high-end products, you’re building high-end jobs at home in Utah,” Cramer says. “So we’re really excited about what’s coming out of the research departments at colleges throughout the state.”
The aircraft industry is also proving to be a boon the state’s export sector. Utah divisions of Boeing, L-3 Communications and ATK are not only creating local jobs but also impacting the manufacture and supply of the global aircraft component market.
Small Business; Big Impact
It’s not just large employers that are making an impact on the global market. Red Rock Specialty Cheese employs just 35 people at its remote plant in Delta. Yet the company’s artisan cheeses are winning worldwide awards and gaining international recognition.
The company has watched its customer base grow steadily since it opened up shop in Utah in 2005. Red Rock’s business has evolved from supplying cheeses to restaurants to now selling products to consumers through grocery chains such as Costco, Kroger and Associated Foods.
The company isn’t content, however, to limit itself to U.S. sales. Red Rock is actively pushing its products beyond U.S. borders, shipping cheese by the truckload to Canada. The company has also sold its products in Mexico and is testing markets as far off as South Korea.
Red Rock CEO Jon Nilson says that although Delta is completely foreign to even domestic partners, the small town in Millard County offers the company some unique advantages.
“Everything we make is local,” he says. “Being in Delta, we are surrounded by about a dozen dairies that belong to the Utah Dairy Cooperative. They have enough milk to supply our needs.”
Not only does Red Rock save on shipping by purchasing milk from its neighbors, but it allows the company to buy a more attractive product. Both the company’s cow milk and goat milk come from local Grade A dairies, where none of the producing animals are treated with growth hormones.
World Trade Center Utah, a nonprofit partially funded by legislative dollars, is a resource for companies like Red Rock that are looking to take their products into new countries. The trade center can identify the top countries for a particular product and then help the company make connections with agents, distributors and trade shows in those countries. Similarly, the trade center can also help those looking to do business in a specific country and point them to the products that are in highest demand in that area.
More than half of exporters only sell their product in one foreign country. One of the goals of World Trade Center Utah is to help these companies improve efficiency and increase sales by expanding into additional markets.