Relationships Spanning Borders

Utah Thriving as an International Business State

Tom Haraldsen

March 1, 2011

If one word could describe the Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s (GOED) success in elevating Utah as an international business state, it’s the organization’s focus on “relationships.” Building long-term relationships is at the heart of everything GOED leaders do. Relationships are what have made Utah not just a developing partner for global economic powers conducting international business, but a desired one.

“On any week, our office will host ambassadors from around the world,” says Brett Heimburger, one of GOED’s three regional directors in the office responsible for developing international trade for businesses in the state. “Every week of the year, some significant government or business leader will be here. They want to do business with Utah companies.”

“It’s been my experience that once delegations come here, they realize our very pro-business environment,” adds Franz Kolb, regional director. “The dollar is currently so low that Europeans and Asians realize that now is the time for them to expand in the U.S. We’ve put together strategic alliances with various regions around the world, and when we go on trade missions, we’ve found that Utah is now recognized in many parts of the world for its virtues—hardworking people who are culturally sensitive to a degree and speak many languages.”

Breaking Boundaries

The State’s efforts at developing this climate began in 1982, when the Utah Legislature created the State’s first international business office. It was the byproduct of Utah citizens’ experiences venturing abroad for business trips, vacations and other travels. Those Utahns saw the potential for doing business internationally. That office morphed through the years into the GOED as it exists today, supported by governors and legislators past and present, and continuously growing in scope and stature worldwide.

“We carry, officially, the seal of the State of Utah,” Kolb says. “That is very significant internationally. It opens doors, because it makes us neutral facilitators.”

Heimburger and Kolb are joined by regional director Miguel Rovira. Each has his own area of responsibility. Heimburger focuses on Asia; Kolb is responsible for Europe, India, the Middle East and Africa; and Rovira’s region is the Americas, from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic Circle.

Though the office works both on importing and exporting, it’s the latter that draws the major emphasis.

“Our office is committed to promoting international trade,” says Kolb. “Our mission is primarily export, because when we export, we provide employment to local citizens.” Heimburger echoes that sentiment, saying that as exports grow, companies grow and more jobs are created. “And creating jobs is what this office is all about,” he says.

Welcoming the World

Heimburger, Rovira and Kolb may focus on different regions, but all share a common denominator: building relationships around the world. Kolb credits the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games with making “a big splash for us” internationally.

“We opened up our state and we said, ‘The world is welcome here,’” he says. “Well, those who came soon found out they were, and very much still are, welcome here. They are not only checking us out, but they’re finding this very friendly, proactive feeling about us doing business and they find it very refreshing.”

Rovira agrees on the importance of developing those bonds.

“The key to success in the Latin culture is the personal relationship,” he says. “That comes before you should present a business card.” All three directors are multi-lingual, able to speak “cultural languages—really communicating with them and not just voicing a few key words,” Kolb says. And each of these directors is aided by representatives in many of the countries in their regions—natives who know the cultures, both business and personal.

One such example of how effective those local reps can be on the import side of the equation is told by Don Christophersen, director of production for Farmington, Utah-based Quantronix. The advanced solid state laser manufacturer sent representatives to Mexico in search of a foundry for supply.

“We made that first trip on our own, and it was a huge waste of time,” he says. “Then we turned to [GOED] and they introduced us to Guadalupe Escalante, their representative in Mexico, and she was amazing. She did all the homework, found prequalified companies, and saved us an incredible amount of time and money. Four of the five companies we met with on our second trip with Guadalupe were perfect matches.”

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