West Michigan business owners are increasingly wary of international trade, and few would blame them given tariffs, fair trade and the horror stories of outright theft of intellectual capital, most notably in China.
Center stage during World Trade Week (this week) in Grand Rapids has long belonged to the “big players” like Alticor and Wolverine World Wide, though event sponsors from the service sector make a point of including smaller businesses that have found international success. General disinterest may or may not be reflected in lack of traffic in the Foreign Trade Zones in Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, though Upjohn Institute economist George Erickcek believes that is more related to a decrease in tariffs for finished goods.
Event organizers this year have broadened the focus from a single country to “global partnerships.” Whether an all-inclusive scattergun approach entices interest is yet to be seen, but continued dissemination of the manufacturing base in this region certainly has impact.
Has the well-executed World Trade Week program run its course after 20 years? How successful is dragging the horse to water, unable to make it drink? Good questions, perhaps, if the educators in this arena are unable to help this business community see that most every one is already “involved” in world trade, and the significant impact it has on the domestic bottom line. Continued ignorance does not just threaten World Trade Week, but it certainly threatens the continued economic well-being of this region.
Business owners are already painfully aware of how the consumer drive for low cost goods — and services – has changed everything from supplier networks to telemarketing. Erickcek indicated, however, he sees regional business owners as more concerned about concentrating on their domestic share, especially as manufacturing is beginning to rebound, but international business has already made an impact on the bottom line of the domestic share.
Competition is global, and to believe otherwise is akin to sticking one’s head in the sand. To understand the competition, and to be competitive, business owners should avail themselves of the opportunities to meet international experts. The U.S. Department of Commerce panel, for one, offers one-on-one sessions with local business leaders, and Grand Rapids is one of four cities in the entire country to have such opportunity.
The World Trade Association also has linked this year through Junior Achievement to provide a Student Global Awareness Program for Creston and Central high school students, giving youngsters a better measure of the existing global economy. College and university leaders have reported a growing interest among students to study and work abroad.
They will have no other choice, if their elders do not “get it.”