College Looks To Boost Global Trade Locally

May 28, 2002
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MUSKEGON — Courses designed to help businesses step into the global arena could begin as early as this fall at Muskegon Community College, as the school elevates its international trade offerings with the aid of a federal grant.

College faculty have begun formulating curriculum and seminars geared toward students and businesses seeking to learn about international trade. The effort is backed with a two-year, $145,657 federal grant to help MCC increase and improve its international studies.

The goal is to help businesses and students develop the skills needed to compete in the global economy, said Sharon VandenHeuvel, coordinator of MCC’s International Programs. The initiative is also part of MCC’s broader goal of creating greater awareness of global interdependence.

“Everything we do is not just about us. Everything overlaps,” VandenHeuvel said.

MCC is working with the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, the regional office of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, and 20 other local public and private sector organizations to develop the program, known as the Partnership for Promoting International Business and Export Trade.

VandenHeuvel expects an online-based international trade certification program to begin within a year. MCC should begin incorporating into its curriculum as early as this fall new stand-alone programs and degree credit courses that student can transfer to four-year colleges, she said.

The federal grant comes on the heels of a Chamber of Commerce survey last year of 1,100 small and medium-sized businesses in the Muskegon area that showed 55 percent of the respondents were interested in becoming involved in international trade, VandenHeuvel said. A stumbling block was a lack of knowledge of how to go about it or where to turn for advice on how to get started.

The survey results indicated a “real need” for additional offerings on international trade, VandenHeuvel said.

“A lot of people think about it, but they don’t know how to get started,” she said. “It’ll be one more resource for them.”

One former business executive who now counsels small businesses welcomes the additional  resource, particularly the effort to create a greater awareness of global trade.

David Bloomfield, the retired president of the bowling division of Brunswick Corp. who now volunteers for the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), said he quite often sees apathy and parochialism among small manufacturers when the subject turns to international trade.

“A lot of folks don’t want to spend the money it takes to get involved in overseas business,” Bloomfield said. “There has to be an awareness.”

If firms are willing to make the financial investment and time commitment to tapping an overseas market to sell their product or identifying foreign companies as sources for materials, they can produce some significant dividends, Bloomfield said.

“There’s a big payoff,” he said.

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