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Ian Houston: Building modern links between Utah and Scotland

Utah and Scotland share a belief in inclusive growth, wellbeing and sustainability.

(Photo by Ian Houston)

As my recent flight to Utah descended on a lovely clear night, the flickering lights below stretched across the Salt Lake Valley. The scene paid tribute to a rich heritage of pioneer immigrants who tamed this land, and was representative of a modern Mountain West state shining confidently.

As a visitor to Utah, I am struck by how it has emerged as a prime hub of economic growth and continued expansion. I witness a state rich in understanding about the world, a leader in the United States when it comes to the proportion of its population who have lived overseas, who speak foreign languages, and maintain international links. Without question, Utah is an attractive domestic and international market.

As Utah considers international trade, engagement, and research overseas, there are many attractive global markets. The United Kingdom will continue to be near the top of the list. It is essential to understand the attributes of the devolved nations that comprise the UK: Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland. Just as the United States has unique economic, administrative, legal, political and cultural pockets within, so does the UK. While England, Wales and Northern Ireland each offer tremendous opportunities for Utah global engagement, let me address the prospects that exist in Scotland.

Scotland’s ancient and distant past is often the image that sticks in the minds of many. There is nothing inherently wrong with those images; in fact, they spark the imagination, and may satisfy an urge to better understand the past. However, there is a modern side of Scotland with a vibrant present and promising future that needs to surface.

Not a day passes that I don’t encounter some type of innovation in Scotland. While this has been an incredibly difficult year for Scottish business because of COVID, I still hear those resilient and brave voices. In my role with Scottish Business Network, I meet with entrepreneurs who have established businesses and associations. These individuals skillfully run their entities with purposeful visions. As SBN facilitates connectivity between Scottish companies and a network of the leading Scottish diaspora around the globe, I continue to be inspired.

Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen rightfully rank in the top 10 UK cities for inward investment projects. According to a 2020 report by Ernst & Young, Scotland was once again the most attractive location for inward investment in the UK outside of London. Beyond these cities, Scottish council areas in Angus, Dundee, Fife, Ayrshire, Perth and Kinross are partnering with the UK and Scottish governments to secure deeper investment and greater local powers that will be transformative.

Chambers of Commerce across Scotland are robust with ongoing trade missions to cities in the United States and around the world. Industries and sectors such as life and chemical sciences, space, renewable energy and green technology, creative industries, financial and business services continue to grow. The tourism, food and drink, and hospitality sectors have suffered during these trying times, but those sectors will grow rapidly once the health situation stabilizes.

Investors recognize a highly skilled, productive and engaged workforce in Scotland with a strong, welcoming and mature infrastructure of support. In addition, Scotland has established progressive valued based principles that underpin global trading relationships.

Ivan McKee, Scottish minister for trade, investment and innovation explained, “We want Scotland to be a successful trading nation, but we also want to be known as much for how we trade as what we trade.”

That Scottish integrity aligns well with the values of Utah. McKee declares, “Scotland wants to trade based on key principles of inclusive growth, wellbeing, sustainability, a just transition to net zero and good governance.”

Elizabeth “Liz” Truss, UK Secretary of State for International Trade, stated, “Scotland is a great trading nation and demand for Scottish expertise, services and goods is growing.”

Utah and Scotland share a unique historical bond. Utah ranks second only to Maine in the United States in the percentage of citizens who trace their heritage back to Scotland. From that rich soil tilled by Scots have many achievements blossomed in the history of Utah. That past is honored with a vision of engagement with modern Scotland that will yield a prosperous future.

Ian Houston

Ian Houston is president of Scottish Business Network US and ambassador for SBN in Washington, D.C. He is a writer and contributor on topics related to the US/Scotland/UK relationship. He can be reached at ian@sbn.scot

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