What is so special about Utah that places the state at the top of the “Best States for Business” on any list? The governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, and forty ambassadors from around the world, convened at the Meridian International Center to explore business diplomacy. In a panel moderated by the Meridian President Stuart Holliday, the governor explained how Utah has created a friendly economy for enterprises through its active engagement with world players.
Utah has been trying to build a multilingual environment to be better prepared for global business. A government report shows that Utah’s dual-language immersion program has covered around 200 schools, so children in Utah start to learn at least one foreign language during elementary school. The governor shared that all of his family members can speak at least two languages, and this is what a typical Utah family looks like. “The multilingual environment is part of Utah’s culture,” said the governor. This makes the state competitive in attracting international business because its multilingual environment is well prepared for a healthy and diverse economy.
International trade is critically important for Utah’s economy. The governor used “planting a garden” as a metaphor for international trade. “Doing international trade is the same thing as planting a garden,” the governor said, “it has to start from visiting each other, building mutual understanding, and finding opportunities to cooperate.” Even if the “crops” do not come out during a governor’s tenure, future governors will enjoy the harvest. And since it is better to do business with friends, the preparation for the soil, and initial connections, are extremely important. The annual Utah Global Forum, which has been around for five years, prepares Utah for an international conversation on business.
When asked about his view on the sustainability of the current economic expansion, the governor said: “Utah does not believe the R-word (reverse) for economy.” Although the business cycle can be true, he has faith in the garden which Utah plants—the good policies and a healthy economy. Utah in the past decade revised its tax code to create a business-friendly environment. The state also aims to build a dynamic market by encouraging more enterprises to grow, become wealthy, and create more jobs.
The governor also shared his understanding of the governor’s role and the importance of the NGA (National Governors Association).
Herbert believes that it is the governors’ job to promote trade and expand business opportunities for their states because states are their frontlines to fight. What’s more, it is important for governors to consider the unique characteristics of their states. Former governor of Michigan (1983-1991), James Blanchard, also contributed to the conversation explaining that governors act like ambassadors. According to Blanchard, partisanship and ideology no longer matter for governors when it comes to dealing with state business, because governors look at things in a practical and pragmatic way—“they just want to get things done.”
Governors matter not only because they promote education, build roads, and negotiate trade deals, but also because they have a huge influence. In U.S. history, there have been 17 governors who eventually became the president of the United States. “The governor is the president of the state,” said Blanchard, “governors execute laws, represent people, engage in real world dialogue, and promote international involvement.”
Both governors view the NGA as a necessary and useful platform for states to share experiences and unite voices. According to Herbert, the NGA is a place where governors can come together and learn from each other’s failures and successes.
It is easy to focus on diplomacy and affairs between countries and to forget the importance of state diplomacy and the important role governors play. Just as a top-down method, a bottom-up approach conducted by governors can also promote globalization and build up business success, which is exactly what is happening in Utah.