Economic Development and Education

World Trade Week looks at Latin American markets

May 1, 2015
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World Trade Week in West Michigan will have a decidedly Latin American flair.

Now in its 30th year locally, the celebration begins May 4 and will emphasize the emerging markets in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

Those countries will take center stage during the annual business conference and VIP reception, scheduled for 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 6, at Grand Valley State University’s L. William Seidman Center, 50 Front Ave. SW.

“Latin America is an up-and-growing launching point as far as growth patterns,” said Sonja Johnson, executive director of Van Andel Global Trade Center at GVSU.

Brazil has become a hot spot for events, having hosted the 2014 World Cup, and with the Olympics heading there in 2016. It has also received plenty of attention from economists in recent years.

Mexico has received a lot of attention again from manufacturers looking to shorten supply chains during uncertain times, and its business environment is more favorable than China’s in regard to wages and taxes. Johnson said Mexico’s free trade agreements with 40 countries make it particularly desirable for Michigan companies.

“Mexico has been pretty aggressive in signing their free trade agreements,” she said.

“If something can be semi-made in Michigan and shipped to Mexico to be finished, it qualifies for NAFTA. It may also qualify for other free trade agreements.”

The business conference will begin with a luncheon and presentations from two keynote speakers.

Richard Holwill, ambassador and vice president of public policy for Alticor Inc., will speak on the topic of emerging trends, while Thys DeBruyn, president of Advance Resources & Consulting, will discuss “Protecting Your Business Interests While Traveling in Latin America.”

Lunch will be followed by three breakout sessions focused on emerging Latin American markets, doing business in Brazil and NAFTA opportunities in Mexico. Attendees can participate in two of the three sessions.

The business conference will close with remarks from Consul Juan Manuel Solana Morales, consulate of Mexico-Detroit, and will be followed by a VIP reception.

Other World Trade Week events include the Economic Club’s World Trade Week Luncheon from noon-1:30 p.m., May 4, in the JW Marriott’s International Ballroom. Panelists include Jim Zwiers of Wolverine Worldwide and Dan King of Herman Miller.

On Tuesday, May 5, the West Michigan World Trade Association will host its annual dinner, which includes the World Trader of the Year award presentation. This year’s winner is Bulman Products, owned by Ann Kirkwood-Hall.

The more than 100-year-old company produces school and art supplies and industrial, retail and food packaging products in Grand Rapids, and has been actively building its exporting business in the past few years, with a specific focus on Europe and countries with free trade agreements.

“A lot of people say they don’t export because it’s difficult, but my theory is we are all collecting a paycheck and we are supposed to work hard and do things that are difficult. It’s part of being in business,” Kirkwood-Hall said. “If they are afraid of it for that point, it’s not anything you can’t figure out.”

The dinner is scheduled for 5:30-8:30 p.m. at StoneWater Country Club in Caledonia.

Deanna Richeson, director of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s export program, is the scheduled speaker for the evening.

The following week, on Monday, May 11, a Student Global Awareness Capstone Event is on tap. The invitation-only outreach event focuses on Grand Rapids Public Schools students and is being held at GVSU.

The week and a half of events will wrap up with the WorldQuest Trivia Competition, hosted by the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan from 7-9 p.m. at the Wege Center on the Aquinas College campus.

Johnson said World Trade Week events provide numerous opportunities to network with companies currently involved in exporting and find out more about resources available in West Michigan to small and medium-sized businesses looking to enter the exporting game.

She noted this year’s host business for the business conference and VIP reception, Rainir, is a great example of one of the companies that will be on hand to discuss its success.

“They make oral health care products that are manufactured here in West Michigan, and their CEO will be at our event,” she said.

This year’s World Trade Week boasts 25 sponsor companies and organizations.

World Trade Week hopes to make international trade less confusing for companies that have yet to enter the export market.

Its origins date back to 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Foreign markets must be redeemed for American producers to rebuild a full and enduring domestic prosperity for our people,” and created the National Foreign Trade Council.

“Every year since then the current president of the United States will recognize the third full week of May as World Trade Week,” Johnson said.

West Michigan chooses to host its events the first week of May.

Foreign trade has grown in importance to the U.S. economy and the health of individual states’ economies, thanks to globalization.

Johnson noted that having a healthy export economy is a must for Michigan.

“I think we’ve seen West Michigan weather the economic downturn of 2009 so much better because we weren’t just selling to the United States; we were selling to a broad global customer base,” she said.

“You look at the companies the Trade Center was working with during the recession and it’s the companies that were exporting that didn’t get that really deep bottom-out in the economy,” she said. “They were able to maintain their sales and keep things going.

“There are 95 percent more customers outside the United States than inside of the United States, if you are looking at total population.”

The U.S. Commercial Service reports that companies that export their products provide an average wage that is 18 percent higher than wages for those companies that are not involved in international trade.

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