Ensuring Toledo’s role in the global economyWritten by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
What is Toledo’s strategy regarding the extraordinary economic boom in China? In the three times I had been to China in the last two years, I saw firsthand the emergence of a gigantic economy that is changing global economic patterns and the economies of nations and cities around the world. Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of products — large and small — are entering the global marketplace from factories in China, and the economic impact of these exports is being felt throughout the industrialized world.
Civic leaders and public officials in Toledo have come together to create the China Task Force to lay the foundation for stronger economic ties and relationships with China that will benefit our community and metropolitan region. I believe we now have an opportunity, through the efforts and leadership of this task force, to develop thoughtful plans and strategies to maximize the economic impact from these budding relationships. I’m excited by the possibilities and potential of this important initiative.
As I sit in the meetings of the China Task Force, it is clear to all of the members that Toledo needs a thoughtful and effective “China strategy.” But it is equally clear we also need a “global strategy.” The very same questions and issues now being raised about how to strengthen economic ties with China should also be asked about other nations … nations that are also aggressively redefining their places in the global economy.
We regularly read of the “belt tightening” decisions of our major corporations and worry about the loss of manufacturing jobs in our community. We know the hardships that are being sustained because of the current trends of downsizing and plant closings. We are feeling the negative impact of globalization in manufacturing and other sectors. What is our response to these patterns of globalization and their impact on Toledo and the metropolitan area? We should begin a more organized effort immediately to find the economic opportunities that are on the other side of the “globalization coin” that will bring jobs and investment to our region.
We cannot be passive when it comes to defining our place in the global economy. We must make a place for ourselves; otherwise, we will not be a player but simply a spectator on the sidelines while other cities and regions become skillful competitors in this rapidly expanding global economy. To be a player means addressing some tough issues and answering complex questions that are not easy to answer. But we avoid them at our own peril.
With this global expansion, however, comes unprecedented business and economic opportunities if we are prepared to compete in a more strategically sophisticated way. We have a tremendous opportunity in Northwest Ohio to leverage our strengths in manufacturing, transportation, higher education, research and other sectors to attract investment from around the world. As one of our city officials said, “This is not a time for xenophobia. We should welcome these global economic opportunities.”
UT, like other major universities across the nation and throughout the world, is developing its own global strategy to become more competitive on the international stage. Our growing relationships in China are one example. But the Toledo metropolitan area also needs a “global strategy.” Toledo, too, must change and adapt as the global economy changes. It cannot be “business as usual” if we want to emerge from this fast-paced, global economic transition as a stronger, more successful regional economy.
An idea and suggestion
Using the model of the China Task Force, we could establish similar task forces for other parts of the world that would economically benefit the Toledo metropolitan area and region. We could, I believe, have similar task forces for India, Japan, other Asia/Pacific Rim countries, Mexico, Canada, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, Africa and other strategic economic areas of the world.
The leadership of these several international task forces could form the membership of a new Toledo Area Council on Global Affairs whose mission and role would be to promote, develop, implement, and coordinate a global economic strategy for the Toledo metropolitan area and region. The goal of the proposed Council on Global Affairs would be to position and help prepare Toledo to be an active, successful “player” in the global
economy. The Council would help guide our region onto the global stage with a positive, pro-active, collaborative strategy designed to inform and enable our area businesses, public and private sector leaders, as well as our economic development organizations to play an effective competitive role in the global economy.
Toledo is blessed to have a highly diverse population representing numerous ethnic groups, cultures and countries. This diversity of cultures and nationalities is a largely untapped asset that can be used to strengthen Toledo’s international ties, boost trade and grow our economy. We have the diverse population, expertise and talent needed to help launch and support an effective global strategy.
How would the proposed Toledo Area Council on Global Affairs achieve its goal?
Actually, there are several possible approaches for strengthening Toledo’s global competitiveness. In addition to working closely with organizations that have good international ties such as the International Business Institute at UT, Toledo Sister Cities, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, the international offices of our major corporations, and local companies currently engaged in international business, the council would create an active strategic network of sustained international relationships focused on imports and exports, trade and commerce, and foreign investment. The Council, in partnership with the Regional Growth Partners (RGP) and Strategic Education and Economic Development (SEED), would gather information on international markets and foster relationships that could be used by local businesses to strengthen our global competitiveness.
Similarly, the Council would recommend the deployment of trade missions for carefully selected groups to strategically selected countries where business opportunities exist. As our influence grows, we could use it to promote higher environmental standards and labor protections abroad. And, equally important, the council would provide guidance on effective protocols and etiquette for hosting high-level international delegations.
As I have traveled to Asia, Eastern Europe and other regions of the world, I’ve often found our hosts treat our visits with a much higher level of importance and greater sensitivity than when we host our international visitors. There are international protocols, ceremonial traditions and forms of etiquette that increase the effectiveness of trade missions and international visits. The more proficient we become in the use of these protocols, the more effective we will be at building global relationships that will, in turn, be reflected in greater international trade and commerce.
We have many different views about globalization. Some would like to speed it up; others would like to slow it down. Still others would like to stop it altogether. Regardless of our view of globalization, the forces that brought us to this point (e.g., The World is Flat) are unrelenting and even accelerating. Our task is to develop and implement strategies that ensure that Toledo and our region are doing all that can be done to benefit from the increasingly powerful forces of the global economy.
Perhaps there is a better way of taking full advantage of the global opportunities than creating a council on global affairs. If there is, now is the time to roll it out and bring it up to speed. We can’t afford to lose any more ground or time.
Dan Johnson is president emeritus and university professor of Public Policy and Economic Development at the University of Toledo. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.