Grand Rapids Meet Mexico

June 5, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — World Trade Week may be a national movement, but its local flavor could mean much more for West Michigan’s business community.

In 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt officially proclaimed World Trade Week as a national observance by the U.S. government. It was proposed by presidential decree for the purpose of promoting awareness and support for international trade and the vital role it plays in our economy.

“It is a great event that brings diversity and awareness to the community,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Program. “It allows us a chance to highlight and introduce an important aspect of the economy and introduce the featured country as a potential trade partner.”

This year, Mexico is the focus country for many reasons. Klohs said the country has been a focus of World Trade Week before but with all of the recent North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) issues between the U.S. and Mexico, it was the correct choice.

“There are also more and more companies that are expanding their business to Mexico and that are beginning to work in that part of the world,” Klohs added. “With that in mind, Mexico was an important choice.”

To celebrate, The Right Place Program along with numerous individual sponsors, will present programs, events and cultural activities that center around Mexico and all it has to offer. The celebration on Monday, May 14, will begin with the World Trade Week Kickoff Luncheon with keynote speaker Dr. Lee Tavis, C.R. Smith professor and director of the Program on Multinational Managers and Developing Country Concerns, at the University of Notre Dame.

His speech, “Globalization and Corporate Moral Responsibility,” will touch on aspects of globalization and its rapid spread across the world, and focus on business planning models and the potential contribution of multinational firms for development in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Tavis will analyze how globalization has changed the nature of multinational corporate moral responsibility, particularly in developing countries, and consider how multinational managers might approach this issue. The luncheon will be held in the Pantlind Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel from noon-1:30 p.m.

A vital factor in any trade agreements and relations between the U.S. and Mexico is Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Juan Jose Bremer. The ambassador, who is scheduled to appear, will be honored at a private reception later that night at the Gerald R. Ford Museum, by invitation only.

Tuesday, May 15, begins with several events on trade, historical changes in Mexico, opportunities in Mexico and various other topics. A trade seminar on Mexico begins at 8 a.m. at GVSU’s Eberhard Center, 2nd floor, 301 West Fulton St.

The seminar will focus on how to grow business opportunities in Mexico by learning from top professionals in private industry, the government of Mexico and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Many professionals from the international business community will make up the list of speakers at the seminar. There also will be two breakout sessions, which will focus on business executives in Mexico and commercial issues on NAFTA.

Two other events have recently been added to this year’s World Trade Week. A luncheon presentation will follow the trade seminar on Mexico, also at the Eberhard Center. From noon to 1:30 p.m. the topic will be “How To Profit From The Maquiladora Industry In Mexico,” featuring Pablo Gallardo, Maquiladora expert with Bank One.

Later that night, two events will wrap up the day. BDO Seidman LLP, Old Kent Bank and Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP will host a reception at Rembrant’s at Bridgewater. The reception will also include the presentation of the West Michigan World Trade Association’s World Trader of the Year Award.

Following the reception, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan will debut, to the Grand Rapids area, WorldQuest 2001.

WorldQuest 2001 is an international trivia game on world affairs, trade and geography. Teams of up to six people, from the media, corporations, colleges and other organizations are invited to compete.

Dr. Ben Rudolph of Grand Valley State University will serve as game master and ask trivia questions about an international event, place, name, etc. The multiple-choice answers are projected onto a screen via a PowerPoint presentation. All teams play the same question at the same time with an allotted time frame. Each team chooses one answer and marks it on a score sheet. At the end of the game score sheets are tallied and winners are announced.

The game is designed to be fun as well as educational. Today is the last day to register.

World Trade Week will wrap up on Wednesday, May 16, with a breakfast and Mexican cultural presentation entitled, “No Nova! Doing Business in Mexico.” It will be presented by Mauricio Gregario, regional director for Amway Corp. Latin America, based in Monterrey, Mexico, and Robert Davidson, director of Amway Corp. Latin America. The breakfast and presentation will be held at the Women’s City Club on the corner of Fulton and Lafayette.

Holland also will host a World Trade Week event on Wednesday from 10-11:30 a.m. The Michigan-Mexico Connection panel discussion will feature Governor Ignacio Loyola of the State of Queretaro, Mexico, and a delegation of economic development officials to discuss trade relations and barriers between the U.S. and Mexico. The city of Queretaro is a sister city to Holland.

Local companies sponsor or host most events scheduled throughout the week. The money charged for each event will go to cover costs of the week, said Nancy Brian, business development coordinator for The Right Place Program. Any money left over will go to pay for next year’s event.

“This is not about raising money,” Brain said. “It is really about raising awareness and educating businesses to become more involved in Mexico and other international markets.”

And creating awareness is something that is taking time to work its way into the local market. However, many local firms have quietly started business in Mexico and other countries.

Grand Transformers of Grand Haven has recently moved into Mexico and Paulstra CRC also is beginning to do international business. Both companies, along with the added cost, staff and production results, have to learn how to deal with their international counterparts in a business-like manner.

One way to acquire this key information is through the Van Andel Global Trade Center. The center offers seminars on ways to teach business owners and staff members proper international etiquette.

“Business etiquette is crucial to foreign business relations and can often make or break a deal,” said Klohs. “Sometimes, before there is even a deal on the table you will have already ruined the transaction because of a gesture or phrase that is interpreted in a different way in a different country.”

Klohs feels that the U.S. needs to be sensitive to the competition and also understand that there are certain customs and relations involved in business, beyond the business deal.

“We are a very large nation and we should keep up to date and current on international business practices just as other countries do for us,” she added.

And that’s why it’s imperative that Grand Rapids meets Mexico as part of this year’s World Trade Week.

“Every year this week is vital to the business community. In order to be able to expand business and grow to an international capacity, area businesses need to be introduced to the possibilities out there, and this is a great venue for it,” Klohs said.

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