Johnson: Going global … intentionallyWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
No one questions the fact that the world has “gone global.” For nearly two decades we have read article after article and study after study describing globalism and globalization. Numerous best-selling books have revealed in considerable detail the global character of the world we now live in. Few topics have attracted as much attention in the 21st century as globalization. And, for very good reason: “Global” now defines nearly every aspect of the world in which we live, work and compete.
As Americans, we have reacted in different ways to this phenomenon that has overtaken the world as we knew it in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Many have ignored the changes as largely irrelevant to the U.S., the world’s remaining superpower. Others have resisted and even protested globalization and its economic impact. Remember Seattle? Still others have recognized the opportunities associated with globalization in the form of greatly expanded markets, talent pools and capital for investment.
To some degree, either by default or intention, all communities, including ours, have gone global. If one shops at any of the big box stores or even your local grocery, most of the products and produce you take from the shelves originate in some other country. It is common for our 401(k)s, retirement and pension programs to be invested in mutual funds with corporate holdings that are multinational. A growing number of our communities’ professional services are provided by foreign nationals who fill important roles for our families, businesses, health care institutions, schools and universities.
This is a healthy development. Moreover, there is a strong case to be made for moving from a community and region that has globalized by default to one that intentionally pursues globalization. Much of the globalization of Toledo and Northwest Ohio is occurring quietly, under the radar. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, I believe it limits the benefits we could derive from globalization. If we were more proactive, more aggressive and more intentional in making and branding the Toledo region as an international city we would be more competitive with successful cities and regions here in the U.S. as well as the growing number of such cities around the world.
True, globalization has cost U.S. jobs. That has been the painful downside. But there are two sides to this coin. The upside is the vast international market for Toledo products, goods and services. Equally important is the very real potential for significant foreign direct investment in Toledo businesses, industries, real estate, education and health care. The upside potential of globalization in markets, investment and jobs far exceeds the downside if we learn the rules of the game.
“How we connect with this new world is the single most important issue of our lifetime?” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter in 1995. This lesson has been taught by economists and business leaders since the mid-1990s and its importance has been growing exponentially since that time. How we fit in the global economy is a question we as a community and region must be asking if we are to be among the world’s successful competitors. What is our connection with the world? What connections do we want or, more to the point, what connections do we need with the global economy to become a thriving region and to sustain our quality of life? What is our community’s foreign policy?
It appears that the region’s global initiatives are less under the radar today than they were just a few short years ago — and that is a very good thing. Mayor Mike Bell is opening dialogue with Chinese companies and cities, the Regional Growth Partnership is leading and participating in international trade missions, the University of Toledo is moving ahead — fairly aggressively — to chart a course of strategic global engagement, and an increasing number of local businesses are breaking into international markets. Northwest Ohio, led by Toledo, its principal city, is developing a critical mass of international businesses and significant global connections. Great opportunity awaits this region and will be realized when we leverage our knowledge of the international scene, the competencies of our workforce, the spirit of our entrepreneurs and our international connections to elevate Toledo to the status of a genuine international city.
Is there risk involved in taking such steps? Of course, there is always risk. Naïve global engagement is risky and carries a potentially high price. But the risk to our community, regional economy and quality of life is even greater if we take no action to more effectively connect with global markets, global partners and the global economy. Future success cannot be guaranteed. However, as we become a more serious and effective player in world networks, grow our understanding of global markets and continue to meet and exceed world standards with our products and services, Toledo and Northwest Ohio will become a competitive force in the global economy.
We have a great start. It’s time to go to the next level.
Dan Johnson is director of global initiatives, president emeritus and distinguished university professor of public policy and economic development at the University of Toledo. Email him at email@example.com.