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Former North American leaders descend on SLC for international trade conference



Utah’s rising prominence as a player in the global business landscape was the focus of a Thursday conference in Salt Lake City that included an impressive roster of domestic and international leaders including former President George W. Bush, former Mexican President Vicente Fox and past Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean for the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, told attendees of the Crossroads of the World Summit at downtown’s Grand America hotel that Utah had already established itself as the crossroads of the West and was building an argument for a more ascendant position.

“What I do know is we’re the undisputed crossroads of the West and that’s the seed corn for being the crossroads of the world,” Gochnour said.

Gochnour shared data that reflects Utah’s outsize performance when it comes to global trade, including a comparison of the state’s rankings of 30th in the country in terms of population, 29th largest economy but 16th on a basis of per capita export values.

Gochnour also pointed out that, among western states, Utah has the third highest per capita export ranking, even beating out economic powerhouse California.

“It’s a pretty big punch,” Gochnour said.

While Bush was among the marquee speakers at Thursday’s event, the former president’s presentation was closed to media.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox quipped about his role as the state’s CBO — Chief Bragging Officer — and shared an anecdote from a recent trip to Vancouver, B.C., where he attended a TED conference.

Cox said he shared a dinner table with a well-known hedge fund billionaire, who he declined to identify, who said Utah’s most powerful built-in asset was the shared characteristics of its residents as smart, hard-working people who prioritize their families.

“Those are Utah values and they used to be American values,” Cox said. “Utah is what America used to be and, I hope, what it can be again.

“I can say those things (about Utah) but to hear it from someone else … I thought a lot about that conversation.”

This story will be updated.

From left, former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speak with Mark Garfield at the Crossroads of the World International Trade Summit at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 23, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News
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