Board Member Highlight: Val Hale, GOED

Val Hale, the outgoing executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and World Trade Center Utah board member, sat down (virtually) with our Marketing and Communications Director, Julia Breinholt-Pappas, to discuss his time at GOED. Val and the entire GOED team have been and continue to be outstanding partners for World Trade Center Utah. We wish Val and his family all the best in their future endeavors and are excited to welcome his successor, State Senator Dan Hemmert. Be sure to check out photos from Val’s time with GOED below the story. 

Julia Breinholt-Pappas: Hello and good morning, Val! Let’s start with how long you’ve been supporting the state in your role with GOED.

Val Hale: Almost six and a half years. I was appointed in the summer of 2014, and I’ll be departing in January 2021. I’ve had many exciting and fun jobs over the years, but this one is right at the top. It has been a fascinating experience. 

JBP: What sets this job apart from the others you’ve had?

VH: My job every day is different; I meet cool and interesting people from international dignitaries and ambassadors to CEOs of companies. As a member of Governor Herbert’s senior staff, I have the opportunity to meet with the Governor regularly.  Also, trade missions are an exciting part of the job. They have allowed me to see the world and meet business people from all over.

JBP: That leads perfectly into my next question, WTC Utah and GOED work incredibly closely together on the Trade Missions. What trade missions stand out in your mind and why is that?

VH: Governor-led Trade Missions have taken me to 20 different countries around the world. Each one was fascinating. I would say the most interesting was the one last year to Switzerland, France, and Italy. Part of that had to do with the fact that I got to go to places I’d never been to, like Zurich, and attending the Paris Air Show. 

We also had several very productive trade missions to Southeast Asia. One of the most fascinating was Vietnam and Singapore. I grew up during the Vietnam War and saw bloodshed on TV while I was in high school. To think that I’d someday meet with the highest levels of Vietnam government leaders to forge connections is really something. It was fascinating to see how that country and its relationship with the United States had changed. They have embraced a form of capitalism and were promoting economic activity in their community. 

JBP: Being a part of the solution and new growth in that market have been very rewarding. What did you feel was the impact of that trade mission?

VH: I was impressed with the number of businesses that joined us on that trade mission that came back and said they had so many leads that it would take them months to follow up with all of them. It was one of the most productive trade missions we’ve ever had. 

JBP: What else stands out to you from your time at GOED?

VH: The highlight of my career at GOED happened not long after I started. OOCL, a prominent international shipping company based out of Hong Kong, was looking to relocate or even remove its North American headquarters. They did a big search and decided to establish themselves in Salt Lake City – a massive success for the state, especially considering our land-locked location. 

In addition to building their headquarters here, the company also decided to build a big freighter named the OOCL Utah. Since the governor was unavailable to christen the new ship at that time, they invited me in his place – with one caveat: my wife was to be the star of the show. They explained that men don’t christen ships, women do, and said that if I’m coming, I have to bring my wife. Watching my wife christen the ship in Shanghai was really special.

JBP: What a fun story! Christening a ship is now officially on my bucket list. Can you share how we were able to secure the OOCL headquarters in Utah? 

VH: OOCL put together a massive chart of every state with a metric for what they needed. They gave each state a rating for a variety of categories. At the end of the day, Utah came out number one on the chart, which led to their decision. I’m sure other subjective things played a factor, but the objective data led them to Utah. 

JBP: We talked a lot about outbound trade missions, but we also get to host a lot of incredible people here in Utah. What inbound diplomatic mission sticks out in your mind and why?

VH: Some absolutely amazing diplomats have come through Utah. One that sticks out in my mind is the Jordanian Ambassador to the United States, Dina Kawar. She represented the Arab World at the United Nations. She was so professional, thoughtful, and delightful. I considered it an honor to spend time with her. 

JBP: You get to spend a lot of time with some truly incredible people. What kind of feedback do we get from diplomats regarding the state?

VH: They love the beauty of the state and how they’re treated. A lot of the ambassadors that have come here have been brought here by either BYU or UVU. Many of those ambassadors on their way to speak to those universities would meet with the governor. Many ambassadors want to come through Utah because they’re heard from their colleagues what a great experience it is. WTC Utah does a great job of hosting these people for a luncheon with our business leaders and they get to meet with our governor. They get treated here in a way that they don’t get treated anywhere else. 

JBP: I believe that. Why do you think Utah is such a great place for global business? 

VH: We always talk about our international culture here. We are probably more culturally aware and literate than any other state in America. The reason for that is because we have so many people in our community who have lived overseas and are not only fluent in the language but in the culture. This sets the stage perfectly for international business. The fact that we are so business-friendly makes it easy for businesses to come here from around the world or if we want to take businesses to other countries, we already have people with the knowledge and interest. It’s a fantastic recipe for success. 

JBP: As you know, Utah’s STEP Grant award has increased from $300K to $641K in the last two years. What does that mean for Utah companies and why is that important for the state?

VH: The STEP Grant is a wonderful tool, but is also, unfortunately, a well-kept secret. It allows businesses to take advantage of trade missions, trade shows, and other things they might not be able to afford. I would encourage any small business interested in expanding their operations overseas to look into the STEP Grant. It’s a really wonderful tool for companies looking to go global. The increase speaks to the success of Utah companies because we have to apply for the STEP Grant every year; we have to show what we’ve accomplished in the last year. It’s not a given that we get it every year; it’s a limited amount. The fact that we have more than doubled the amount of funding received from the Small Business Administration speaks very highly of Utah and our international efforts. We have had a great return on investment.  

JBP: Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t get to hear about what’s next for you. 

VH: This international experience is going to come in handy for me. My wife and I have accepted a call to serve as public affairs missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Los Angeles area. There are 170 international consulates in Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Our responsibility will be to develop relationships with the consuls general in that area. I’m not down there to officially represent Utah but as the former director of GOED, we can have some fun conversations about Utah and what a great place it is to do business. 

JBP: Thank you so much for your time today as well as your strong partnership over the years. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors. 

The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) charter is based on Governor Herbert’s commitment to economic development statewide. The mandate for this office is to provide rich business resources for the creation, growth and recruitment of companies to Utah and to increase tourism and film production in the state. Visit their website here.