The power of connectionsWritten by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
In the fall, when Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller and I were discussing the possibility of me writing an occasional column for Toledo Free Press from my new post at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), he said he would like to call it “Bridge to Dubai.” I rather liked the phrase, and we agreed that the columns would be carried under that theme.
During the past several months, I’ve had the occasion to think about the metaphor of the “bridge” in relation to Toledo and its future. I have also had the time to see and learn a little about Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE and the potential value of stronger ties for both the UAE and Northwest Ohio. What I am learning about this region of the world suggests that there would be substantial value for both regions — UAE and Northwest Ohio — in having stronger ties, i.e., a “bridge” that connects the leaders, business interests and economies.
The world is now in the grips of an economic crisis, and no one is quite sure just when it will end. Yet every economist believes the crisis will end sometime in the next year or two, although some believe it may take longer. When is does end — and it will — there will be better days ahead as regional and national economies rebound, ignited by the long-deferred purchases of consumer and capital goods. That time will bring new economic opportunities if we have established the necessary relationships from which to do business.
Those who are looking ahead and investing time and effort to establish such relationships will be positioned to take advantage of the rebounding business cycle and resurging global economies.
The question we should be considering is whether we will be satisfied with the “status quo ante” and going back to the way things were before the crisis; or, do we take the position that we will not be satisfied with anything less than achieving a new and higher level of economic development?
To go to a new level will mean doing things differently than we have in the past. Regional and even national economies are changing rapidly, and giving way to globalization and the increasing integration of business on a worldwide scale. Emerging markets, slowed or even stalled by the financial crisis, will re-emerge, and those who will benefit most from the economic upturn will be those who have planned for it by expanding their relationships, business networks and connections.
This may be a good time to build a “bridge to Dubai.” Notwithstanding the economic slowdown here in the Emirates, serious long-term plans are forthcoming weekly from nearly every sector looking ahead with a national goal of being a world center and hub for global finance, trade, health care, logistics, tourism and a host of industries geared for the future. Leaders in government, education and business in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are looking for partners who can bring a value proposition to these efforts. There is clear recognition that there is power in connections.
The power of these connections for a local economy comes in the form of new ideas, new markets, shared visions, shared infrastructures, collective problem solving and the new perspectives these global connections bring to local issues and challenges. The ideas, markets, visions, infrastructures and other assets Toledo can bring to the global marketplace are considerable and attractive. The challenge is to build the bridges and create the connections that allow the assets of Toledo to find their way to these global partners and markets.
I believe that building these bridges is a collective responsibility of business, government and higher education. It also requires leadership and willingness to take risks, invest time and explore potential opportunities. A considerable portion of the success of these efforts is linked to building relationships around common interests.
I hope my time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be helpful for those seeking connections with interests in Toledo and Northwest Ohio.
Dan Johnson is provost and COO, Zayed University, U.A.E. and president emeritus, University of Toledo.