Friday, October 30, 2009

Global Youngstown

Next month is dedicated to global themes and international migration. I'm helping my friend Richard Herman promote his new book, "Immigrant, Inc." I share Richard's passion for immigration issues and I'm a strong believer in what foreign born talent can do for local economic development. I also advocate taking advantage of globalization forces, as opposed to merely weathering the storm. That's why I am delighted to see this story in today's Business Journal:

Officials with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber are heading to the Far East this weekend for a two-week trip to establish business ties in China and Taiwan.

The trip is part of a strategic plan to forge a “global footprint for the Mahoning Valley,” chamber officials report.

Comprising the local delegation for what chamber officials describe as an “unprecedented trip” are Tom Humphries, Regional Chamber president and CEO, Eric Planey, vice president, international/national business attraction; and Florence Wang, a member of the chamber’s board of directors and its senior advisor for Asian markets.

“This is the beginning of a coherent international strategy for the chamber and the Mahoning Valley,” said Planey, who was hired by the chamber in July. The goal of the two-week trip is to put the Youngstown-Warren area on the radar of Chinese corporations looking to expand into overseas markets “as a logical destination for their American operations,” he said.

Coherent international strategies are few and far between in the Rust Belt, particularly at this scale. Much of this development is catalyzed at the state level, mostly as a result of the dominant political geography. However, globalization opens up new avenues for dialog and metro-to-metro exchanges make more sense. In other words, don't wait for Ohio or your folks in DC to get the conversation started.

There are plenty of grassroots opportunities for international relationships. Audrea Cika sent out an e-mail that nicely illustrates this point:

The Kosciuszko Foundation is seeking area teachers and university students to participate in its Arts Enriched English Camp in Poland in July 2010.

The innovative three-week program brings together American teachers with Polish youth to enhance their knowledge of conversational English through instrumental, performance and visual arts experiences. College and high school students who are at least 18 years of age may apply as Teaching Assistants in this unique cultural exchange program. Last summer 44 elementary and 48 high school Polish students participated.

Polish ancestry and knowledge of the Polish language are not required, but participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Selected participants receive FREE room, board, a weeklong follow-up tour and a modest stipend. Airfare is discounted because group flights are arranged by the Foundation. Teachers who are parents of teenagers can bring their children to serve as Peer Tutors to the Polish students.

Rev. Joseph Rudjak, pastor of Youngstown’s Sts. Peter & Paul and Our Lady of Hungary served as dance and performance arts instructor at the camp last year. He will be joined by Mary Kay Pieski, the program's creator, when the Polish Arts Club of Youngstown hosts an informational session on the program and the opportunities on Sunday, November 15th at 1:30 PM on the 6th Floor of the Maag Library on the campus of Youngstown State University.
The public is invited.

I studied and taught in Poland during a three-week intensive course on transnationalism a few years ago. Poland was set to join the European Union and we were looking at how the border region between Poland and Germany might change. Poland is a country on the come with a number of great investment opportunities. Really, the exchange described above is no different than the Regional Chamber touring China and Taiwan. Business moves along the paths of relationships and Polish cities are strong partners for a revitalized Youngstown. You needn't be Eric Planey or Tom Humphries to engage in your own coherent international strategy.

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