Dan Johnson: Opportunity knocksWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently saw a thought-provoking ad for a wealth management firm in a popular magazine that read: “What if opportunity knocks and you can’t find the door?” Looking back, I was able to recall a few times I let opportunity pass and times when opportunity was staring me in the face and I failed to see it. Life is like that.
The same is true for communities and regions. There are, regretfully, opportunities for strengthening our local economy that we let pass for any number of reasons. Risk, lack of leadership and fear of the unknown are common causes for letting an opportunity pass. Looking back with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, we can see we made a mistake in letting an opportunity for our city or region pass or we see that someone else or another community picked up on the opportunity to their great, good fortune.
It is also possible to point to many examples of opportunities that we did not let pass and that are now paying dividends in the form of new jobs, new companies and new people moving to our region.
Many of the opportunities that are knocking today are global — the need for products, services and expertise in emerging economies translates into huge opportunities for the insightful and venturesome entrepreneur. An increasing number of Toledo and Northwest Ohio companies are finding and meeting these needs and taking advantage of these global business opportunities.
During the past few years we have begun learning about foreign investors who see business opportunities here in Toledo and the surrounding region. Since this is a new phenomenon, it is not surprising that some find the idea of outsiders investing in and owning pieces of “our town” a little uncomfortable. Others recognize foreign investment in our community and region as a unique opportunity to grow jobs, create new companies and attract new residents and their families.
Moving into the global economy, while not without risk, is opening the door of opportunity for local businesses to find markets abroad as well as opportunity for foreign investment here at home. None of this is easy and it doesn’t happen by itself. Someone must make it happen. To make it happen, someone or some group must have the vision, the insight and entrepreneurial spirit, including the willingness to take the risk.
We are finding such people here in Toledo and our region. This month, Mayor Mike Bell and representatives from the Regional Growth Partnership, the University of Toledo and several members of the business community will journey to China to continue our efforts to share and exchange information, establish relationships, explore potential partnerships and invite investors to Toledo. This is how it is done. It doesn’t happen with one visit or even two; it is about building relationships and friendships. It is about learning the cultures of our potential global partners and helping them learn about us. It is also about building trust, which sometimes takes a little longer.
Building such relationships is an investment in itself. It usually means traveling, often considerable distances. It means taking time away from other activities, families and work. But it also means opening doors of opportunity for tapping into new markets, for attracting foreign investment and for recruiting newcomers to our community.
Today, much of our attention is focused on China; but there are other emerging economies as well as fully developed economies that we need to explore for business opportunities, new markets and foreign investment. Brazil, South Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East are brimming with opportunities. Eastern Europe and new countries that made up the former Soviet Union are actively seeking international partnerships.
I applaud Mayor Bell and the members of the delegation making this November trip to China. Coming on the heels of the recent 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum, which attracted more than 130 Chinese business leaders, the trip conveys a genuine desire to reciprocate and to work together for our mutual benefit. This trip will pay dividends in the form of relationships that will, in turn, lead to business opportunities and economic expansion.
When opportunity knocks, we must find the door.
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.