Five years ago, less than one percent of the Utah's businesses sold goods abroad. Now, that's jumped to just under four percent, according to state officials. They, like Mikolay, hope that that growth is only the beginning of a trend. Utah companies now sell goods to Canada, China, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Thailand, India, Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, and Singapore, among others. In 2009, Utah exported roughly $10.3 billion worth of goods (roughly half which came from mining). This year, the governor's office of economic development estimates the state is on track to double that amount.
The goal of the governor's economic team is to increase the number of Utah businesses that sell goods abroad as a way to both diversify the economy and give local businesses a broader set of customers. Focusing on exports makes sense for the region because, for one, many of Utah's Mormon residents already speak another language fluently and have spent serious time abroad, thanks to the church's emphasis on two-year international missions. Secondly, teaching Utah's businesses to export helps the state capitalize on the value of goods it already makes; it's another way to bolster business without having to just rely on luring new companies to the area and offering the typical economic development sweeteners like tax breaks.
For the businesses themselves, the export push has opened up new markets. Just ask Natalie Kaddas, general manager of her second-generation, family-run company, Kaddas Enterprises. Based in Salt Lake City, the thermoforming plastic manufacturer employs 22 workers. They make plastic parts, both custom and pre-designed, for utility and transportation companies. Their most popular product is a plastic device called a 'Birdguard' that covers power lines and poles so that birds do not interfere with the lines and cause outages.
About a year ago, Kaddas started to work closely with the governor's economic aides to expand the reach of her family business outside of the U.S. She traveled with a group of other Utah executives on trade missions to Mexico and Israel (the latter happens to have the same migratory bird patterns as Salt Lake City, she says). Now, she's focused on finding new clients in Latin America and the Eurozone. In 2013, the company did just under $1 million in international sales out of total sales of $3.5 million. "It's caused us to rethink our markets," she says. "Having an international focus was not our strategy until last year."
Utah and Salt Lake City are not the only places joining the race to become local exporters. In 2010, the U.S.'s 100 largest metropolitan areas produced roughly 65 percent of the country's export sales, according to research from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. While the overall economy continued to shed jobs in 2010, export-related jobs in the U.S. increased by 6 percent. In Utah, they now account for roughly 20 percent of the state's jobs, says Natalie Gochnour, the Associate Dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.