SALT LAKE CITY — As Gov. Gary Herbert goes to California to persuade businesses to move to Utah, he might do well to remind them of Utahns' unique ability to communicate in dozens of different languages within a single workplace.
Business opportunities have presented themselves to some Utahns because of the languages they speak.
In 2008, Olympian Kerri Walsh was battling for volleyball gold and the world was watching. Utahn Jim Jensen was watching, too. And like everyone else, he noticed the strange black tape she was wearing on her shoulder.
He phoned business associate Reed Quinn and told him to tune in. TV commentators talked about that tape for more than 10 minutes, and Google Trends listed the tape as a No. 1 search.
Jensen and Quinn happened to be looking for business opportunities. "We said there's gotta be something there," Quinn said.
The tape turned out to be kinesiology tape, an elastic tape used to treat injuries — and for Jensen and Quinn, it did turn into a business opportunity, thanks in part to Quinn's mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Virginia, Utah mount joint raid on Calif. jobs
by Associated Press
To make that pitch to California businesses, Utah's Gary Herbert and Virginia's Bob McDonnell, both Republicans, have scheduled joint stops beginning Thursday in Orange County, Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
They intend to position their states as antidotes to California's high taxes, notorious red tape and rollercoaster state finances.
Governors across the country routinely entice businesses to move or expand into their states. Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry spent several days in California trying to lure away companies.
But it's unusual for governors from states with different economic profiles and statehouses 2,100 miles apart to tag-team another state. Not coincidentally, the visits come a few months after Utah and Virginia were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in Forbes magazine's annual list of the best states for conducting business.
It also follows a period in which California - by itself the world's ninth largest economy - lost luster. The 9.6 percent unemployment rate remains among the nation's worst, vestiges of the housing crash linger, and its credit rating is one of the shakiest among states. Stockton, with a population of nearly 300,000, recently became the largest city in the country to file for bankruptcy protection.
In addition, California businesses are sounding a common refrain: Heavy-handed regulation and weighty taxes slow growth and profit.
Forbes lumps California among the worst states for doing business.
Utah's economy is one of the most diverse in the country, ranging from tourism to mining and manufacturing. Energy costs are well below the national average, and Forbes noted that a review of the state's nearly 2,000 administrative rules ended with 368 being slashed or modified after being judged a drag on the economy.
Helped by a jump in leisure and hospitality jobs, Utah's unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent in February. Virginia's unemployment rate - 5.6 percent in February - has been trending down since joblessness peaked at 7.4 percent from December 2009 until March 2010.
Utah's personal income tax rate is 5 percent. In Virginia, it's 5.75 percent for people making more than $17,000. California's is staggered depending on income, from a low of 1 percent to 12.3 percent on income over $1 million.
Despite its recent troubles, California's economy has showed encouraging signs. It added more than 300,000 jobs in the past year. That's a 2.1 percent gain, outpacing national job growth of 1.5 percent. Google Inc., Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. all call the state home, along with a massive consumer market of 38 million people.
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Quinn served a mission in Taiwan, learned Chinese and fell in love with the area and the people. When it came time to leave, he said he knew he'd be back.
"I need to choose a career where I can keep this up," he said he told himself, "where I can use it, where I can improve it."
He changed his college major from molecular biology to economics and went into product development, specializing in working with manufacturers in China. He worked for a company that produced boats and another that developed packaging.
Eventually, he cofounded a company that produced that kinesiology tape, called KT Tape. Kerri Walsh became a sponsor.
"It was me sitting down with the manufacturing engineers (in China) and learning how it was currently made and then brainstorming ideas," he said. "How do you want to cut this? Do you want to cut this with a ceramic knife? How do we get the perforation?"
Quinn and people like him are what a National Public Radio report called Utah's "secret economic weapon."
Thirty percent of Utah workers speak a second language. That's more than any other state and, of course, it's in part because so many return from LDS missions with language skills.
As business becomes more global, languages become more valuable. International trade accounts for a fourth of the U.S. economy. Half of the nation's economic growth since the recession's end in 2009 has come from exports.
"The added advantage of Utah is you can get an electrical engineer, graduate engineer, who, oh, by the way, is fluent in Spanish or Portuguese," said Jeff Edwards of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. "You just don't find that in other parts of the United States."
Edwards served a mission in France and found his French helpful when talking to European sporting goods companies Amer and Salomon about locating facilities in Utah, which they did.
"I don't know if (speaking French) was a factor in their final decision," he said, "but we certainly made them feel welcome."
Global banker Goldman Sachs didn't decide to put a hub on Main Street, Salt Lake City, because of Utah's language skills, but managing director David Lang said it certainly helps them do business.
Fifty percent of their Utah workers speak a second language. In total, 71 languages are spoken at their Utah office.
"We're operating around the world, dealing with many different cultures, different people, and we have to relate to these people in their own languages many times," Lang said.
When they "pass the global book of work," as they call it, they often need to speak something other than English. For instance, at the end of the Utah day, they communicate with people in Asian markets, where the day is just beginning.
Goldman Sachs employee Bryan Richards served an LDS mission in Portugal and helped the company expand an office in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Financial trades there, he explained, are far less automated than they are in the U.S.
"In Brazil it's different," he said. "It requires a lot more hand holding. So if you buy a security to settle that trade, you could spend two hours on the phone."
Although no one doubts the worth of Utah's linguistic talent, no one has quantified it.
Researchers at Geneva University valued the linguistic skills of Switzerland, which has three main national languages, at $38 billion, or nine percent of gross domestic product.
Utah's exports tripled between 2005 and 2011. Lew Cramer of the World Trade Center Utah said most of that is due to metals prices, but he said Utah's language skills have contributed.
Quinn said for him, the value has been being able to really work with Chinese engineers. He said American companies usually tell Chinese factories exactly what they want, rather than working with the Chinese.
Quinn is now spending his time in a small industrial space in Utah County developing new products, including a game controller for iPhones.
The controller was just an idea. Engineers in China designed and built it. Quinn and his partners have been able to develop the device on a relatively shoestring budget because they can use the Chinese' expertise.
"That kind of collaboration with the Chinese is essential," he said. "I think that's one of the reasons people don't leverage China for product development as much as they could is because of the language."