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Preconference explores the evolving profile of international investment.

Today, more and more cities are looking to international markets and for international investment to stimulate their local economies. Municipal officials from across the country gathered last week at the Annual NLC Congress of Cities in New Orleans to discuss this important change in the way development must be viewed in an international economy.

Through the discussion, during a Sunday preconference session, focused on three aspects of international trade, the emphasis on finding ways to export local products and attract international tourist dollars reflected the trend away from concentrating wholly on attracting new foreign plants. In its emphasis, it was a discussion quite different from those that occurred in such sessions during the |70's and |80's.

The questions have shifted from "What plant can I bid on?" to "Who can I sell to?"; from "How do I know that a foreign plant is looking for a location?" to "How can I get information on different foreign markets?"

That emphasis occurred even though one speaker at the session, Denney Tenney, a state development official and Council Chairman of Sandy, Utah, predicted that the United States, as the "least ugly" of the world's fairly ugly economies, may be in line for a new influx of foreign capital over the next few years.

Despite that prediction, a shift in our economy and our view of international trade has occurred. The shift has happened as more and more American firms found themselves with foreign competitors, according to William Stafford, Executive Director of the Trade Development Alliance in Seattle.

"Virtually every American firm has an overseas competitor today," he told conference participants.

Stafford noted that this shift from the United States being a self-supporting and self-contained economy to one player in a world economy has been occurring since 1945. In that year, the United States was responsible for 75 percent of the total world economy. Today that number has dwindled to 30 percent, he said.

Stafford warned that if America's communities were going to be competitive in this new economy they would have to compete as regional economies. He said past "small adversarial relationships" among interests and jurisdictions are something communities could no longer afford, especially when competitors, such as the Europeans, have set aside many of those conflicts in their trade efforts.

In Seattle's trade efforts, the Alliance which Stafford directs, is governed by a 17-member board which includes representatives from city and county government, labor and the business community. He said the basic task of the group is to identify the assets and products of the broader community, including the agriculturally rich Eastern Washington state, that can be marketed or exported, respectively, and to identify the community's customers.

Unlike in the past, American cities cannot see themselves as "the centers of the world" if they are to be successful in a global marketplace, he said.

"As a country, we need to get to know a new set of customers," he said.

Finding those customers was the goals of a new trade fair established in the city of Yakima, Washington.

The mayor said the fair for international buyers was developed not only to increase the region's international commodity sales, but to shine a brighter light on the diversity of produce grown in the Yakima area and to provide an event which would educate small Yakima firms on how they could export their products.

In its first year the trade fair attracted 100 international buyers and is expected to result in sales of as much as $25 million by the end of the year, the mayor said.

Again concentrating on knowing the products your community's firms are selling is important and, through that knowledge, a community can create and project an image to the world, John G. Curran, Council President of Rochester, New York said at the session.

For Rochester, home of Xerox, Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb, that knowledge led to that city declaring itself and marketing itself as "The World's Image Center,"

Mayor Johnny Ford of Tuskegee, Ala. urged conference participants to get involved in the development of international trade no matter how small their city is. He said one way Tuskegee gets involved in international trade is through joining with other cities in many parts of the world through the "Sister Cities" program.

Within municipal trade efforts should be cooperation within regions and with the development office of the state government, Debra Hernandez, the Director of International Marketing for the state of Texas said in her presentation.

She told participants that cities today do not "go global." It isn't an event, she said, but a reality.

"Communities are already there. Business is already international and a city can only assess where it is" in relation to that shift, she said.

Hernandez said that a good business climate within a regional community and an emphasis on exporting the products of the community are the two keys to successful international trade.

Surveying the firms of the community and identifying the assets of the community is a first step for focusing efforts for international trade. Such studies often can be supported through technical assistance from state development departments and funded through the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA). She said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is also willing to fund market plans for agricultural exports.

Other resources are also available to communities who need information on international markets to make their international trade efforts work, she said. Those resources include:

* The U.S. Department of Commerce and its desk officers who are sources of expertise and intelligence on the economy of particular countries or industries.

* The National Trade Data Bank which has intelligence on international markets.

* The 33 federal small business development centers around the country.

Participants were also urged by William Peeper, executive director of the Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Orlando to include an effort to attract international tourist business as part of local international trade efforts.

"Tourism is a very real part of economic development," he said in noting that tourism is one area in the economy that the United States has a positive balance of trade.

He said efforts to attract tourists for many smaller cities are often served best by joining with larger cities and for both sized cities to enjoy to added marketing potential of a regional approach to tourism.

The potential impact of North American Free Trade Pact and the unification of European markets were also reviewed for the participants by Karen Britto, Committee Director for International Trade of the National Conference of State Legislators.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Mahoney, John K.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 7, 1992
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