Forging Links: How consuls general can help your business

Most people are familiar with ambassadors and the role they play in cultivating and maintaining diplomatic relationships, but fewer people are aware of the purpose of consuls general and the services they provide. It is time to uncover what consuls general can do for you and your business.

What is a consul general?

Consuls general are career diplomats assigned to particular countries/regions around the world by their governments. These men and women help companies find partners in foreign countries and promote business and cultural exchanges.

It is important to note that not all consuls fill the same role. The responsibilities of each consul are determined by their home country. For example, the Mexican consul general based in Utah carries out specific duties in the United States on behalf of the Mexican government. A common thread between all consuls general is how they can help Utah companies do business in their respective countries.

While there is just one ambassador and embassy in the capitals of foreign countries, there may be several consuls general. Consuls are located in offices called consulates. Consulates can often be found in main cities of provinces or states.

A fondness for Utah

In 2016 Utah hosted 17 consuls general, which is a sizeable number. Utah receives more than its fair share of diplomatic visitors, and there are several reasons why. First and foremost is the fact that Utah is one of the best states for business in the United States, as recognized by notable organizations like Forbes and Pollina Corporate. Utah is doing well economically, so these diplomats are curious to learn what is in the secret sauce.

Second, for a landlocked state of 3 million people, Utah has a considerable global reach. Events like the 2002 Winter Olympics upped Utah’s global street credit. Then, of course, there is the strong relationship the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has built with world leaders to extend its missionary program. Utah is also home to offices of global companies like Boeing, eBay and Goldman Sachs. An estimated 120 languages are spoken in daily commerce in the state.

Finally, there is the university factor. Many consuls general plan a trip to the Beehive State because they are invited by Utah’s universities to speak to students. Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University and the University of Utah have strong political programs that routinely extend invitations to diplomats from various countries to visit their campuses. While they are here, the diplomatic officials take the opportunity to meet with government and business leaders.

UVU can be credited with bringing 10 consuls general to Utah at the same time at the end of October. This cohort came to participate in the annual Utah Global Forum, the state’s premier international business event produced by World Trade Center Utah (WTC Utah), the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Salt Lake Chamber. Consuls general in attendance included representatives from Mexico, Canada, Czech Republic, Japan and Chile, to name a few.

Making connections

Whenever possible, consuls general try to incorporate a meeting with the business community into their visit to the state. The meeting usually takes the form of a luncheon hosted by WTC Utah and GOED. Diplomatic luncheons serve three purposes:

  • Provide information to the consul general about Utah’s business environment
  • Receive an update from the consul general about what is happening in his/her country
  • Facilitate networking between the consul general and Utah’s business community

The relationships that are forged during these visits are invaluable. WTC Utah and GOED recently led a trade mission to Canada. During the planning stages for the trade mission, the Canadian consul general was instrumental in helping set up visits and make introductions. Because of the combined efforts of all partners, Utah companies were able to find success and grow their presence in Canada.

While a main responsibility of a consul general is to promote doing business in his/her country, the consul can also help bring businesses to the area he/she is stationed. The consul general of Switzerland has been to Utah many times to deepen economic ties between his country and the Beehive State. When the CEO of Stadler Rail, an independent Swiss manufacturer of rail vehicles, was looking for a place to locate a manufacturing and assembly facility, the consul general of Switzerland recommended Utah.

Stadler Rail is in the process of a 15-year plan to expand its North American manufacturing presence. Utah was selected as the location for a temporary facility while the company looks for a permanent location, for which Utah is being considered. If Utah is selected as the permanent location for the manufacturing and assembly facility, it could create 1,000 new jobs over 15 years. Utah’s consideration as a location can be attributed to both diplomacy and Utah’s top-notch business climate.

Consuls general serve as connectors, linking their respective countries to the areas they are stationed. When a strong relationship is built, consuls general are great resources for both the private and public sector.

Worldview-Derek-MillerDerek B. Miller is president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, an organization dedicated to helping Utah companies think, act and succeed globally.