World trading scope more vital than ever

May 4, 2009
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The Business Journal has for 23 years supported the efforts of the World Trade Week partners — as well as many related initiatives since the initial establishment of the free trade zone(s) and Van Andel Global Trade Center — but never in that time has the world been more obviously flat, nor has that fact been more obviously understood. Small business owners selling products via the Internet understand the ramifications of global trade as well as Wolverine World Wide Inc., the recipient of the 2009 World Trader of the Year Award this week.

The multiplicity and speed with which countries now negotiate to one another is well understood by all segments of the population even if only the international health epidemic is observed for evidence. The question is whether business to business we will continue to pass on illness, or assist in wellness. In this regard it is recovery from a worldwide recession contemplated here, and the policies and behaviors that may be expected.

Wolverine’s Vice President of Global Marketing for the Merrell and Patagonia shoe brands, Craig Thorne, gave a keynote speech last week to members of Local First, an organization supporting locally owned businesses who gathered for a conference on sustainability.

Sustainability in Grand Rapids encompasses far more than environmental concerns. Throne walked his audience from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s complete product change to prevent environmental damage by mountain climbers, to a corporate culture of values to do the right thing. He believes the mission statement sustains the company and assists its growth.

Bissell Inc. and other area companies established manufacturing ventures in Mexico, China and elsewhere around the world, and made improvements just to set up business, including water, sewer, transportation infrastructure as well as environmental considerations. As business owners travel the world many CEOs have taken with them some compassion for the people of those places, making even greater inroads in marketing products to a generation that fully understands the global nature of life. Even vacations are less about sightseeing and extravagance and more about “causes.” RockResorts last week, for instance, became another of many offering hotel guests a “Give & Getaway” deal which puts them in farm fields alongside St. Lucians, affording them “an opportunity to give back to the island.”

One wonders whether new market dynamics rather than those rapidly being replaced might have changed Wolverine’s closing of its Rockford tannery. The recession in Michigan last week was further engrained as Chrysler teetered into bankruptcy, and its suppliers in West Michigan struggled for payment. The ripple effect of unemployment looms, and creates a very different base from which to operate. “Third World” wages are fast becoming the wages of the Michigan world.

This community has deep roots in “sustainability” but the mission is now larger, innovation more crucial and certainly global in impact. World Trade Week has never been more important.

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