The Aperture of Opportunity: An Interview with Miles Hansen of the World Trade Center Utah
Last month EDCUtah’s Colby Cooley conducted a Global Strategy and Outreach trip to Europe. Some 20 business development meetings yielded four new projects, making the trip highly productive by any standard. We sat down with Miles Hansen, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, to get his perspective on why overseas business leaders are showing more interest in Utah than ever before.
What’s the current perception of Utah in the overseas business community?
MH: When business executives think of Utah, they typically first think of our natural beauty and year-round recreation opportunities. A skiing trip or tour of the national parks is often their first exposure to our state. And it’s generally a very positive impression.
Increasingly their perception of our business environment is positive too. Executives know our economy is strong and diverse. This translates to a strong desire to expand the presence of Utah companies in markets around the world and for global investors and companies to invest here. We see countries and companies reaching out to us weekly about trade and investment opportunities, and we partner with companies, investors, and economic development organizations as we send trade delegations to key markets around the world on a regular basis.
In concrete terms, how does the positive perception manifest itself?
MH: There’s an inbound and outbound aspect to this question. Inbound, over the last six months, we’ve seen visiting delegations of ambassadors, trade representatives and executives from Austria, Hungary, Italy, the United Kingdom, Greece, Ireland, Russia, Norway, Qatar, and Romania, to name a few, all looking to expand trade and investment relations between Utah and companies in those markets. The interest in reaching out to Utah is widespread.
In terms of outbound engagement, World Trade Center Utah has facilitated several business delegations to Europe, the Middle East, and Australia in recent months. We took five life sciences companies to Germany in November, followed by 10 outdoor product companies to a German trade show in January as well as a focused biotech trade mission to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the same month. In February we took four aerospace companies to Australia, and in March we took ten advanced materials and aerospace companies to France. This June, we expect 15-20 businesses in a range of industries to join Governor Herbert on a trade mission to Switzerland, France and Italy in conjunction with the Paris Air Show.
While these efforts produce some quick wins, for example, the outdoor industry tradeshow to Germany resulted in more than $4 million in new trade opportunities for Utah businesses and a Utah biotech company just returned to the Middle East to take the next step in a very significant equity investment, the real value of what we are doing takes time to develop. This is a long game. Governor Herbert, his office of Economic Development, EDCUtah, World Trade Center Utah, and many others have all helped to get the word to overseas markets. Accomplishing our shared objective of making Utah known globally as a hub of business, innovation, and investment will require a sustained, Team Utah effort over many years to come.
What’s your “Why Utah” elevator speech?
MH: We have the most diverse economy in the nation. We’re growing faster than almost every other state. And Forbes regularly places Utah at or near the top of the most business-friendly states. For foreign investors, the resiliency and predictability of our economy and business climate significantly minimizes risk. We have a broad range of industries that are performing well, which opens up the aperture of opportunity.
I also like to speak to collaboration. All of our stakeholders – the executive and legislative branches, local government, industry associations – excel at working together to solve problems and respond to the needs of individual investors and businesses.
Lastly, I like to emphasize our comparative advantages. We are a uniquely international society–more languages are spoken in Utah than any other state. We’ve long been the Crossroads of the West, and we’re working hard to capitalize on our international perspective and unparalleled geographic location to become the crossroads of the world.
What’s your World Trade Center Utah elevator speech?
MH: We do international business development for the state and for the Utah business community, unlocking markets for growing Utah companies and facilitating foreign investment into Utah companies and investment funds. We provide training and consulting, open doors of opportunity, and generate momentum so that Utah companies can compete and win internationally. We work with GOED, EDC Utah, and partners all over the state to make Utah a global hub of business, innovation, and investment.