Gov. Gary Herbert says the newly approved but controversial inland port in Salt Lake City is catching the attention of large international companies that may consider moving operations here to be close to what is envisioned as a massive shipping-and-receiving hub.
He said about 20 businesses invited him to a luncheon as he visited Washington, D.C., last week, and said, “We see Utah emerging as a leader internationally,” and “tell us more about the future inland port in Utah.”
The governor added, “We have already been contacted by other large companies … saying maybe Salt Lake City is a place we ought to look at with this new inland port opportunity.”
Herbert said their interest comes because “an inland port provides opportunity to save time, which means to save money,” and offers “access to goods that come into our country without having the delays that happen at our coastal ports — and the opportunity to get through customs not only coming in, but going out.”
He said an inland port may serve as a magnet for businesses that want to be near it, as has occurred elsewhere. “For example, we have an inland port in the East, and BMW is now manufacturing automobiles next to that port.”
Another reason companies are looking at Utah, he said, is “Utah has emerged as a leader in this country when it comes to international business. And why not? We speak 130 languages here. We speak the languages of the world. Our economy is very robust and growing. We understand the world is the marketplace today.”
He said that among companies at the lunch were Samsung, Rio Tinto, Panasonic, Siemens, Hyundai, Kia, Nestle, Volkswagen, Sony and BAE Systems.
Salt Lake City has criticized the way the Legislature formed the new port that covers a quarter of the city’s area. Mayor Jackie Biskupski has protested that the city is losing control over land-use decisions and taxing authority there.
Herbert said state leaders are talking to the city about ways to resolve those concerns. “I’m encouraged by the discussion. We will have to wait and see whether a special session [of the Legislature to address changes] is warranted. But there’s certainly areas of concern that we ought to resolve.”
Meanwhile, Herbert also met in Washington with President Donald Trump — and said he questioned the tariffs Trump has pushed. Of course, any resulting trade war has the potential to make the new inland port a gateway to nowhere.
“We talked about tariffs, the impact it has on the economy, how it will hurt consumers in Utah” and its companies, he said, adding he made clear that “I’m not a proponent of tariffs. I think getting into trade wars will be counterproductive.”
He said Trump said he favors free trade, but also fair trade.
“His approach is a little bit more like the bull in a china shop. He’s trying to get people’s attention and make sure that they recognize he’s serious,” Herbert said.
“His approach does seem to bring people together to at least talk and dialogue, so maybe this will help us in the long term get more fair trade.”
Among other matters discussed during the news conference, Herbert expressed disappointment that Congress again this week failed to pass an immigration reform bill.
“The failure to act on immigration is an embarrassment,” he said. “They all know that we need to have some kind of immigration reform, but then they do nothing. It’s almost like unless we get the perfect bill that everyone can subscribe to … we won’t do anything.”
With Utah’s Pioneer Day coming next month, Herbert said because Utah was founded by religious refugees, that helps make its residents more sympathetic to new immigrants and refugees — and he wished aloud that the rest of the nation would be, too.
“It’s kind of our heritage, it’s our legacy. Because of that, I think we have more empathy for those who are fleeing terror, refugees from other countries,” he said. “We’ve been a lot more welcoming in Utah. … We’re a lot more humane. We don’t want to separate parents from children.”