Globalization is one of those topics that everyone talks about, but in which few bother to get a thorough indoctrination. The Norwalk-based Geotrac Foundation is putting its money where its mouth is by funding programs that work to expand the worldview of the local community.
After receiving a grant from The Geotrac Foundation earlier this year, the Norwalk Economic Development Corp. decided to send nine local community leaders to an international business conference sponsored by the Academy of International Business.
Based on the previous locations of AIB's annual meeting (last year, the group met in Beijing), I envisioned exotic ports of call in Malaysia, India, or perhaps Italy.
As it happened, AIB's 2007 annual meeting was held in that Midwestern metropolis of Indianapolis earlier this summer.
After spending two days there, it became clear exactly how small this world is. It also became very clear that we have a lot to learn from each other.
The Norwalk delegation to the conference not only benefited from the seminars and work sessions at the conference, but through meeting other attendees from throughout the world. The delegates found great value in informal conversation and idea exchange with residents of foreign countries who themselves are active in academia, government and business.
During one particular break, I met a Norwegian business professor and we had the chance to compare how utilities are organized in our respective regions. Since I happened to be with a fellow delegate who works for First Energy, the conversation was quite productive.
Turns out that our new friend from Norway had a much better handle on deregulation issues than many of the Americans I deal with every day!
The workshops themselves also proved to be instructive. It may seem obvious that local needs are a primary driver of product innovation, but the scholars at this conference had done the research to prove it.
One session focused on the topic of how products spread throughout the globe, showing that what eventually may become a global product tends to start as a very local product catering to the needs of a particular community.
For example, while cell phones were invented by Motorola in the US in the 70s, it was the Scandinavians in the 80s who greatly improved the technology in response to the need for uninterrupted communications after heavy snowfalls damaged utility lines.
Innovation can happen anywhere, so even companies in Norwalk can be competitive on the international stage.
But there are lessons to be learned from how other countries conduct international business. Firms in Brazil, Russia, India and China, for instance, tend to extract more knowledge from foreign partners and are better able to exploit that knowledge in business operations - an important lesson for their US counterparts, perhaps.
What the delegation took away from the conference was a sense of optimism tempered by the need for education and perseverance.
One representative said that small businesses, much like the ones in Norwalk, will need to either find a niche in the market to compete with large, multinational companies, or learn to adapt to a rapidly changing economy by competing both online and worldwide.
As for Norwalk's role in the global community, another delegate said that while our local consumers are already greatly affected by global forces, they need to realize that the global community also depends on them via their purchasing power.
With better education about global issues, consumers can actually help to shape their world. Local businesses can also increase their opportunities for success by learning about potential new markets.
This Indianapolis conference confirmed that globalization is a trend that affects almost every aspect of our lives. While cultures vary, as well as means of communication, it seems that the language of business is universal, and offers an opportunity to gain common ground with our global neighbors.
Bethany Dentler is the economic development director for the Norwalk Economic Development Corp. She can be reached by phone at (419) 668-9858 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.