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Published: Sunday, 7/1/2012

COMMENTARY

Bringing NW Ohio to the world

BY DEAN MONSKE

The Regional Growth Partnership is making international business development part of our strategic plan, based on growing opportunities in overseas markets and our initial success with Chinese investors.

This decision stems in part from the national economic recession, which has hampered U.S. investment. But just as important is the heightened economic activity in some global markets: A new study estimates that China plans to invest as much as $2 trillion overseas in the next decade.

When potential opportunities in China emerged in 2010, our region took proactive measures. Public, private, and academic officials from greater Toledo traveled twice to China over eight months to meet with government and corporate leaders.

Selling the advantages of doing business in northwest Ohio to international investors is no different from marketing to U.S. companies and site consultants. Foreign investors bring the same demands to the table: core logistical assets, market access, a trained work force, a reasonable cost of living, and high-quality educational institutions.

Our region's strengths persuaded Chinese investors to buy The Docks restaurant complex and the Marina District. Last year, another investor from China bought the Park Inn, with plans to redevelop the hotel in downtown Toledo as an international business center.

We also hosted delegations of potential investors from China and other foreign markets. These relationships led us to open an international sales office for the Regional Growth Partnership in Shenzhen, China, and to hire a vice president of international development, Paul Zito.

In February, Mr. Zito joined University of Toledo officials to attend the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. Promoting our region as a renewable-energy hub, the team generated 20 investment leads and four planned visits to northwest Ohio.

In April, Mr. Zito traveled to Japan with economic development officials from Findlay. Their meetings with more than 30 Japanese companies led to potential investment in our region of several hundred million dollars. At a trade fair in Hanover, Germany, Mr. Zito joined regional economic-development and private-sector leaders to meet with dozens of businesses, generating potential investment of as much as $30 million.

And in May, the Regional Growth Partnership led a delegation to Shen-yang, China. Working with U.S. State Department officials, our group made presentations to more than 100 manufacturing companies, promoting investment opportunities in northwest Ohio.

We also met with top representatives of the Shanghai Commerce Department, which authorizes overseas investment. The meeting generated such interest that we got together again several weeks ago, when department officials visited New York City.

In addition to these prospects, we are pursuing other potential projects with Chinese investors. A specialty-steel manufacturer is considering a $30 million investment in northwest Ohio.

This September, the Regional Growth Partnership will host a three-day economic forum to which 200 foreign business and government leaders are invited. Global business leaders will immerse themselves in the benefits of doing business in our region.

As we have analyzed our efforts and initiatives, we have learned that international development requires creating and nurturing personal relationships. Gaining trust carries substantially more weight than fancy PowerPoint presentations and business cards.

It's been exciting to hear business people outside the country praise northwest Ohio and compliment our assets. But we understand the uncertainties and risks of international investment, and know it offers no guarantee of success. So we will continue to focus aggressively on our traditional domestic business-development efforts, even as we pursue new international opportunities.

Northwest Ohio has been fortunate in aligning itself with people who have helped connect us directly to top-level decision makers. We can't say for certain what the end result of this initiative will be. Nor do we claim that the successes of our international efforts will be a panacea for our region's economic problems.

But we do know that potentially strong opportunities have arisen through these new relationships. We will aggressively follow through on them, as part of our mission to grow northwest Ohio.

Dean Monske is president and chief executive officer of the Regional Growth Partnership.



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