The morning session kicked off with information from SBDC Director of International Trade Center Rick Martin discussing the growth in international business.
“The state of Georgia, in terms of comparing us to other states, we really are one of the best [in attracting global businesses]. I think that is to the leadership of Georgia. They have really brought attention and focus to the international [sector],” said Alice Carson, senior international trade manager for Global Commerce for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
According to Martin’s presentation, there are 30 million businesses in the U.S. but only 279,000, or roughly 1 percent, are exporters. Of those, 97 percent are small or medium-sized enterprises, with 65 percent employing less than 20 people.
In Bartow County, 18 businesses in manufacturing are from the international sector, coming from Europe, South America, Asia and Australia.
“I think [international business is] critical to the state, first of all, if you look just at the numbers ... in terms of the dollar and how to fix our communities and, more importantly, how to fix our local businesses. Small businesses, they’re able to sustain during difficult times. They’re more efficient. It really does have a tremendous impact on our companies,” Carson said.
Based on statistics, businesses may find a much larger customer base overseas. Ninety-five percent of consumers are outside America, according to Martin.
Both Carson and Martin’s agencies offer assistance to Georgia businesses looking to expand globally.
“... You’ve really got to take advantage of the resources that we have, especially the ones that are free because we don’t cost any money to our communities and to our businesses because we are a state agency,” Carson said. “I think, first of all, making those contacts and utilizing the resources because we have a lot of companies that we work with that are either new to exporting or they’re infrequent exporters and they can learn how to do it the correct way and go through the processes they need to go through so they can be successful at it.”
After lunch, Leadership members heard from a panel of global business representatives, including James Jarrett, director of Contract Manufacturing for Shaw Industries; Philipp Schulz, vice president of Internationalization at voestalpine; Rob Rebello, executive vice president for Aquafil U.S.A.; Terry Laughridge, president of the Terry Reid Group (Hyundai, KIA); and Wes Stephenson, plant manager for Daiki.
A large portion of the panel discussion was spent discussing the cultural challenges facing businesses in an overseas setting.
“Culturally, what got me the most when we went there ... We went there with guns loaded, blazing saddles, ‘We’re gonna do great work.’ We took a great team to Japan with us and then we realized this thing called employment for life. I said, ‘Um, what do you mean?’ ‘Well, we can’t fire anybody.’ And, I’m like, ‘Well, they don’t know what they’re doing.’ ‘Well, you’ll need to send them to the ninth floor,’” Laughridge, who spent 18 months in advertising and marketing in Japan, said. “... It was different for me because, remember, I’m an entrepreneur and startup and we had built it from nothing, so you do your job you get rewarded, you don’t do your job you get retired. Before they would let me hire people, they said, ‘You have to go through our pool of people that we already have.’ ... I go down to the ninth floor and there’s about 200 people sitting at a desk about this size. That’s where they show up for work every day and they spend a full day. They do nothing, but they get paid. That was the pool.”
Language and business procedures also were addressed.
“... The other part, again, was the language barrier. In the 18 months I was there, I always had two translators. One, she would tell them what I said, and two, she would tell me did they get what she just said. … It was that transition of culture,” Laughridge said.
For Jarrett, “anything is possible, but nothing is easy” while working on Shaw’s factory in China.
“The procedures, even though they may have uniform requirements across the country, the actual procedures at the local level often vary a great deal from one city to the next,” he said.
The same can be said for the U.S.
Schulz said, for example, voestalpine encountered recent difficulties transporting an overweight piece of machinery from California to Georgia. The trip took weeks because of varying regulations on overweight transports between states.
“It’s the United States. It’s united, but it’s not united. … It’s just maybe different aspects you are all used to so you don’t see them as much,” he said. “When you are a foreigner everywhere, I was working on China, South Africa and the U.S. all at the same time … Basically, the differences were the food.”
Daiki’s Stephenson advised those working around the globe to factor in a Plan B.
“Our big customer in Chattanooga learned that the hard way this year when we got hit with a tornado. Who would have thought a tornado would hit Adairsville, Ga., in January? But it did. And all of a sudden, instead of making two or three truckload deliveries every day, we deliver nothing. So, they had to start air freighting parts from Japan,” he said. “You have to have some contingency plans because when you have that long of a supply chain, 5,000, 8,000 miles, 6,000 miles, you don’t just pick up the phone and call and say, ‘Hey, bring it to me tomorrow.’ It just doesn’t happen.”
Laughridge was asked by class member Brooke Flowers to expound on his advice to “act locally, think globally.”
“You can get caught up in your own culture and forget how big the world is. … As my children grew up, politically and socially, I always tried to make them understand, ‘These are people.’ There are government standards. There are business performance standards. … But there are social issues, too,” he said.
Shorter University’s Sabrena Parton sought advice on what higher education can do to prepare an incoming workforce for the international marketplace.
“For much of my career, we have spent on how we can interculturally prepare students, focus on global communication. What we are finding now with millennials is they already consider the world a global marketplace. … What would you say … are the most valuable skills you need in employees so we can prepare our college students for careers in international business?” she asked.
“To compete on a global level requires a level of education that we might not think of in terms of higher education. … It’s a competitive playing field and I think that’s the most exciting part of being in the international market … Not everybody’s going to do it. You’ve got to get your education and then you’re going to have to be really good at it, whatever it is you do,” Laughridge said. “… America can’t be last in English and math and compete in the talent pool. I mean, we know we have the education system — they send their kids here.”
Jarrett told the class the skill came down to simply finding the common ground.
“I go back to, ‘It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you’ve got to be able to assess the situation,’” he said. “… You’ve got to be able to look at the people and see the similarities as well as the differences because I think it’s the similarities along which progress is made.”
Leadership Bartow is a nine-month program through the Chamber of Commerce focused on building community leaders by enhancing their leadership abilities and skills through continuing education, shared perspectives and community involvement. For more information on the program, visit http://www.cartersvillechamber.com.