By Brice Wallace 

COVID or no COVID, the work to build business relationships between Utah companies and possible export destinations for them continues.

For now, it’s without the travel.

World Trade Center Utah (WTC Utah) and some of its partner organizations have undertaken virtual trade missions the past few months, using technology to make connections that normally would have occurred in-person overseas.

Since spring, those activities have concentrated on the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Another virtual trade mission, focused on Canada, takes place Sept. 14.

“Connecting Utah companies to opportunities abroad has been crucial in supporting Utah’s business community in 2020,” WTC Utah said in a recent newsletter. “Although traveling abroad is currently not an option, our virtual trade missions allow Utah businesses to connect directly with international government and business leaders without leaving their homes — a no-cost option that did not exist pre-COVID. This approach has allowed us to forge more international connections than ever before.”

The virtual mission to Canada, in partnership with the Salt Lake Chamber and the Canadian Consulate General, will feature Canadian government and business officials discussing export opportunities for Utah companies. Among breakout session topics are life sciences, advanced manufacturing, supply chain, and tech and entrepreneurship.

The Israel mission included an overview of doing business there and sessions focused on tech and innovation, defense and security, water technology and healthcare innovation. The three-day virtual mission was hosted by WTC Utah, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the Utah Israel Economic Council, and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Nearly 200 people participated.

During that mission, Utah companies learned about opportunities in Israel and Israeli companies learned about opportunities in Utah, according to Miles Hansen, president and CEO of WTCUtah. Israeli companies learned about programs and organizations “that exist here to help Israeli companies come to Utah to thrive and use Utah as a base of growth across the United States,” he said during a session concluding the virtual mission.

But the work did not end there, he cautioned.

“We’ve had a lot of good conversations the past few days, but then it comes to follow-up and taking action,” he told participants joining online. “It’s on us on this call today to work together to build relationships and make sure we use all of this — all these discussions, all of these sessions — to prompt positive action that wouldn’t have occurred had we not gotten together over the past few days.”

Ron Zamir, president and CEO of Allen Communication Learning Services and a member of the Utah Israel Economic Council, called the event “amazing.”

“The quality of the speakers, the participants and the different channels that are offering this content … I’m extremely impressed,” Zamir said.

Ben Hart, deputy director at GOED, noted that plans originally called for Gov. Gary Herbert to lead the trade mission in-person in Israel. That was before the pandemic came along.

“We really value our partnership with Israel,” Hart told participants. “We see a lot of the innovation- and technology-based companies overseas and specifically in Israel, and we think that’s a great opportunity to help partner on helping to create new jobs here in the state of Utah and also hopefully corresponding growth within companies overseas as well.”

Shai Lustgarden, president and CEO of Quest Solutions, his company “found Utah to be an amazing place.” He was CEO of an Israeli company that eventually acquired a competitor in Salt Lake City, where he now lives.

“From the business aspects, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he said of Salt Lake City. “You can feel the innovation and the entrepreneurship feeling in the air, anywhere you go. … There is a huge coordination potential between the state of Israel and Utah. We’re not even scratching yet the surface of it.”

Hansen expressed hope that trade missions — perhaps next year — could get back to “normal.”

“We have a lot of friends in Israel, a lot of business to do, a lot of partnership opportunities, and so hopefully we can take the momentum we’ve built over the past few days and carry that into next year when we can all get over COVID and get back on airplanes and travel again — without 14-day quarantines — so we can do this again, in Israel with a group of Utah companies,” he said.

“And until then, we’ll continue to work virtually.”

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