World Trade day marks 20 years, new approach

Two decades ago, officials at Bryant University couldn’t convince Rhode Island companies to talk up international business and the global economy. Now, according to one trade expert there, more than 500 business owners are gathering for the university’s annual World Trade Day.

“In 1985, we started with a group of 15 people interested in doing more global business,” said Raymond Fogarty, director of the R.I. Export Assistance Center and World Trade Center Rhode Island at Bryant’s Chafee Center for International Business. “Twenty years ago we had to beg people to come to see if there were opportunities there for them in (global) business. Now companies are coming because everyone is involved in international trade. Now every company is affected. Education on that is no longer the topic of focus.”

Bryant University will hold its 20th annual World Trade Day on Thursday, May 26, from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. The daylong event, “Keys to Success in Today’s Global Economy,” will include workshops on topics like “Supply Chain Management and Logistics”; “Challenges and Strategies in Doing Business in China”; “Global Issues – A World Connected”; “The Changing World of Global Trade Finance”; “Technology, Education and Global Trade”; “Successful Strategies for Competing in a Low-Cost Manufacturing World”; and an afternoon panel discussion on global business strategies.

This year’s event will focus more on applications of strategies and plans for companies interested in becoming more of a global player, rather than just strive to educate Rhode Island business owners about the dynamics of the global market, Fogarty said.

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“In 20 years, we have grown from $300 million in exports to $1.3 billion,” he said. “There are 180 companies that (the United States) trade with daily. The world’s economy is looking at China as a partner and a competitor. This year’s event is about trade development – how does your business increase its international business and sales, and how you become linked with the world.”

Speakers and panelists for the morning breakout sessions will include John Sheehan, northeast region marketing manager for UPS Corp.; Joseph Amaral, president of Instron Corp.; Richard Devens, executive director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington; John Hazen White Jr., CEO of Taco Inc.; and Daniel Bloom, director of the Advocacy Center for the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. International Trade Administration.

“All of these issues are dynamic and global, and these issues are complicated, but it still comes down to making the individual company, with an individual plan, successful,” Fogarty said. “We really are looking at the global company all the way down to the small company.”

Prior to and following the luncheon, Bryant will have an exhibit with 25 vendors from around Rhode Island and the region, and the luncheon keynote speaker will be Thomas “Mack” McLarty, partner with Henry Kissinger of Kissinger & McLarty Associates in Washington. McLarty is the former Chief of Staff and was a Special Envoy for the Americas under President Bill Clinton.

“The opportunity’s there, even though now a lot of manufacturing has gone overseas and is increasingly downsizing, for the companies remaining here to become increasingly more international,” Fogarty said. “There is also an opportunity for service companies to be involved. They can communicate with anyone on an instantaneous basis.”

Afternoon sessions and panels will feature speakers like Lisa Sasaki, vice president of international trade finance for Comerica Bank; Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, senior manager of global education for Cisco Systems in San Francisco; John Cronin, CEO of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Extension Service; Geoff Grove, CEO of Pilgrim Screw and CEO of PolyTop Corp.; and Greg Booth, CEO of Zippo Corp.

Global business is an exciting and scary place for companies, Fogarty said. The possibilities are endless and technology is helping companies of all sizes compete on a global level. Trade competition, tariffs and tariff barriers and discrepancies make competing with other countries difficult, however.

“The development here now, the pace of change in business is now so fast, it’s scary for some businesses,” he said. “To build a customized plan for those businesses makes them more aware and it allows them to compete globally and survive locally.”

Fogarty said that is one of the major goals of this year’s World Trade Day; and the 20th year represents a hallmark, he added.

“This is our opportunity, after 20 years, to thank everyone who has invested in us over the years.”