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The City Journals

City executive visits China to study economic development, government and transportation challenges

Apr 10, 2018 04:31PM ● By Carl Fauver

Wayne Harper (third from right) and his travel delegation visit Beijing China’s Forbidden City. (Courtesy Wayne Harper)

Taylorsville City Economic Development Director Wayne Harper is back spending most of his days on Utah’s Capitol Hill. It’s a place he’s called home — for the annual 45-day state legislative session — for 22 years now. But this is the first time he’s returned to the hill with a new international perspective on business development, government and transportation — some of the state senate committees he serves.

That’s what a weeklong visit to China will do for you.

“I traveled to China with a delegation representing the National Conference of State Legislatures,” Harper said. “There were nine of use — from nine different states — who visited Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai.”

The cities are all along China’s east coast, about 6,500 miles from Utah. And although the trip was nearly all work, Harper did have enough time to do what nearly every American dreams of doing, if they ever make that trip.

“On my one free day I did see, and get on, the Great Wall of China,” Harper said. “It is a well-designed fortification to keep people out. It’s cold and slick and really impressive.”

But after that one day as a tourist, it was back to work. “It was a highly beneficial trip to study several different things,” he said.

As a member of the transportation committee in the Utah Senate, Harper was excited to see China’s train system. 

“We rode their high-speed trains and visited some of the stations,” he said. “I think we could look at these as potential mass transportation options here in Utah. They seem very efficient, and certainly we are going to have to continue looking at mass transit options as our state grows.”

However, Harper also observed a transportation option he was less enthusiastic about.

“They have so many cars in China, some of their roads are double stacked,” he said. “The top stack is going one direction, while the lower level cars are going the other. There’s no way I’m going to be recommending that here in Utah.”

The United States is home to several two-deck bridges, including the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and the George Washington Bridge made famous by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. But Harper wasn’t a big fan.

Other NCSL delegates on the China trip travelled from North and South Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and elsewhere. Harper said the trip was funded by the bi-partisan, non-governmental organization and not with tax dollars.

“I’ve been a member of the NCSL Executive Committee for three years and also serve on their International Relations Task Force,” Harper said. “The organization has about 2,400 elected officials as members along with about 10,000 staff members who work for elected state legislators across the country.”

According to the NCSL website, the organization “has three objectives: to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures; to promote policy innovation and communication among state legislatures; and to ensure state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system.”

Harper and the other delegates also visited an automobile manufacturing plant that produces two cars that many people might think are strictly all-American: Buicks and Cadillacs.

“China’s economy has really opened up in recent years and provides good jobs for their people,” Harper said. “It’s giving them a better quality of life. But it’s also creating some environmental problems.”

Harper said, as much as Utahns grow weary of Wasatch Front winter inversion each year, it is nothing compared to what the Chinese see, where air pollution face masks are commonly worn outside.

“The Chinese burn lots of wood and coal to heat their homes,” he added. “Pollution is a big problem for them. But they are starting to look more carefully at solar and natural gas alternatives, something we need to continue to do here as well.”

Harper also spent a part of his China trip going to bat for the Utah medical device manufacturing industry.

“We have great manufacturers like ICU Medical and Merit Medical here in Utah that develop lifesaving devices, and then the Chinese copy them and make cheaper knockoffs,” Harper said. “So we talked with them about intellectual property and respecting patents.”

Other stops on the tour included a visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing, a stop at the “Great Hall of the People” where legislative and ceremonial conferences take place and a visit to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

“I learned a lot in China that I can bring back to our country and Utah in particular,” Harper said. “The Chinese face population growth, transportation and pollution challenges just like we do. They may be on a different scale, but certainly, there’s a lot to learn by seeing what they’re doing right and what they probably need to do differently.”