SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is benefitting greatly from the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement negotiated and approved in 2018, seeing $5 billion worth of trade with Mexico and $3 billion in trade with Canada, capitalizing on important products like agriculture and manufactured goods.
The agreement was one of many Utah success stories highlighted Monday at the state's first virtual-only Economic and Energy Summit, which was to be a limited in-person event but was hastily reorganized in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The high prevalence of COVID-19 in Utah should concern us all. Utah is at a turning point this week, and our hospitals are on the verge of being unable to meet the ever-increasing demand for critical care," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in a prepared statement.
"In an abundance of caution, we have decided to make the Utah Economic & Energy Summit virtual-only. Despite the many steps we had taken to make it a safe event for attendees, we simply cannot be too careful in the coming weeks. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 requires each of us to make sacrifices we would rather not make. But I am confident that this year's Economic & Energy Summit will be a fantastic event, even in an all-digital format," he said.
The sudden change did not dampen the enthusiasm over the event, despite a few technical glitches here and there.
Herbert, in fact, noted the silver linings of the crisis in that the state is one of the best in the nation to navigate the pandemic because of the spirit of Utah residents.
"Utahns are uniquely resourceful and hardworking," he said. "We know how to weather storms."
Across the country, the pandemic has underscored the vulnerability of the nation's supply chain, with products stuck in a chokehold due to decreased demand amid economic shutdowns, especially food supplies.
But if anything, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said the renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico shows that regional trade can be a lifeline to get products to consumers in Utah.
"Utah is as well-positioned as any state in the nation to take advantage of this agreement," Cox said during a panel discussion on the 2-year-old trade deal.
The state's residents speak more foreign languages per capita than any other state in the nation and Utah, geographically, is considered the "crossroads of the West," as a hub for trade and business, Cox added.
The trade agreement shored up provisions for agriculture that are more protective than the previous agreement and has other strengths that bode well for Utah's economy, Cox said.
He also noted the coming inland port to be built in Salt Lake City that will fortify the state's position even more.
The summit also highlighted innovations in the energy sector in Utah, including a $3 billion investment by Rocky Mountain Power in 1,150 megawatts of new wind power, repowering current wind resources of 1,000 megawatts and adding 140 miles of new transmission lines.
A megawatt is roughly enough energy to power up to 900 homes.
"The revolution in our portfolio that is going on — we are really leading in the West to decarbonize in the grid," said Rocky Mountain Power's president and chief executive officer Gary Hoogeveen in an interview with KSL. He noted that between 2018 and 2020, the utility has increased its zero carbon emissions by 70%.
Hoogeveen said the utility company is investing in additional wind and solar resources and will retire 16 of its 24 coal-fired units by 2030.