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March 3, 2009 


 Q&A: World Trade Center Illinois Chairman Neil F. Hartigan, Bilal Ozer 3/3/2009
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.


CHICAGO – In this Q&A, international expert Michael Muth speaks with World Trade Center Illinois (WTCI) Chairman Neil F. Hartigan along with World Trade Center Illinois director of trade services Bilal Ozer to discuss how they’re helping small to medium-sized businesses and encouraging trade. Listen to the full interview here.




Michael Muth: Who are WTCI’s customers: foreigners coming to Illinois or Illinoisans going abroad?
Neil Hartigan: Since we’re in the private sector and we’re a 501(c)(3), we support both export and import. We target small to medium-sized businesses. We also work with the consulates and embassies. Our goal is to get past the 15 percent of our businesses that trade. Only 5 percent of world business is done in the U.S. today. We’re the only entity that only focuses just on trade and not investment.


MM commentary: I’d like to know the source of the 15 percent figure.


MM: What problems do you solve for your customers?
NH: Why are only 15 percent of businesses trading? We haven’t grown up with it. It’s not natural to us. Some 400 businesses do 85 percent of the trade in the U.S. They have the capital resources, people and internal infrastructure. We target small and medium-sized businesses that have the appetite for trade.

Ignorance breeds fear. You’re afraid of it. Do you trade with someone 50 or 5,000 miles away? The feeling is that closer is safer. While everyone has heard of trade, no one knows about it. It’s not well understood. What’s NAFTA about? What’s the WTO about? Our competitors are trading. We can’t afford to have only 15 percent of our businesses trading.


MM commentary: American firms have plenty of problems exporting.


MM: Is there any specific focus on any particular country, region or continent?
NH: China has the most visiting delegations. We have done a lot in Europe. The largest investor in Illinois is Great Britain. We try to take the ethnic groups that are here there. African-Americans are a bridge to Africa. There are 30 ethnic chambers of commerce here. Canada is our biggest trading partner.

Bilal Ozer: We also have representatives from the Middle East along with growing interest in former Soviet republics in central Asia and eastern Europe. We had a successful program where we hosted companies in southeastern Europe and from north Africa.


MM commentary: I’m surprised there isn’t more of a focus on the BRIC countries.


MM: How does WTCI justify dues of $1,500 for small to mid-sized enterprises?
NH: Since we’re a 501(c)(3), it’s tax deductible. You have to be able to generate the revenues to employ qualified people. They get a lot more back than at first blush. When we did a demonstration program, we gave free membership for a year to become eligible. We don’t want to create a barrier to those who can benefit from it.


MM commentary: While there are many ways to justify it, it still sounds expensive for small to mid-sized businesses.


MM: What are the original sources for the WTCI’s trade information resources?
BO: We have access to 10 databases rather than just one. We have access to the customs of the European Union, Japan, Canada, the U.S. and Taiwan. For exim statistics, our source is the U.S. Census bureau. For other countries, it’s ministries of finance. We make sure we have reliable government sources.


MM commentary: Some of these are freely available. I want databases full of potential customers.


MM: How are your matchmaking services better than those of other organizations?
BO: Both directions are different. We have a network of 330 world trade centers around the world. We can contact others directly. We can determine the best market in house to find out distributors and representatives.

NH: If you’re a member of one world trade center, you’re a member of all world trade centers.

BO: You have to have contacts in a country who can do due diligence. On the other side with foreign delegations coming to Chicago, we’ve developed a unique experience to help foreign companies.


MM commentary: I can’t say if their world trade center matchmaking services are better than the U.S. Department of Commerce or other matchmaking services.


MM: How do you promote WTCI members?
NH: We do 80 programs a year. You see different sponsors at different levels. To get them more visibility, we try to feature them when they fit in a program as a speaker on a panel. If the need is in trade finance or freight forwarding, our members are those specialists.


MM commentary: I think they could do more to feature small members on their Web site.


MM: What languages does WTCI facilitate?
NH: We speak multiple languages. We have 20 to 40 interns from various business schools. They have many language capabilities.


MM commentary: I’m sure full-time staff speak other languages. Interns don’t cut it.


MM: Please give an example of how you’ve helped a local technology company.
BO: One good example was a developer of a software program for bank security. It’s gaining momentum in the eastern Europe, China and the Middle East. We introduced them to banks in those areas.

NH: Gulf Care is run by young fellas from Saudi Arabia. They put together a company with doctors from the U.S. You take a surgical suite, put it on a trailer truck and can move it after natural disasters for temporary surgeries. You can set it up anywhere. It’s mobile. It’s built in the suburbs of Chicago.


MM commentary: These success stories are great.


MM: How do you work together with the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, World Business Chicago, the International Trade Club of Chicago, the International Trade Association of Greater Chicago and MidAmerica Real Estate Group in Chicago?
NH: We invite them to be co-sponsors without any kind of financial obligation. There are 75 groups with “international” in their title. We’re the only one that focuses just on trade. World Business Chicago is the investment arm for the city.

The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Jack Lavin has been very supportive. John Stroger got the county involved.


MM commentary: Though I’ve seen this world trade center partner with a few other organizations occasionally, it seems rather rare.


MM: How do your members work with other world trade centers?
NH: They have a membership card and can get into the Web site to see buy/sell opportunities. They’ll often have a club as part of it with temporary office space. Before going overseas, we can contact the chairman or CEO of where they’re going. That facilitates it even more.


MM commentary: This can be very helpful.


MM: What’s the relationship with the umbrella organization?
NH: We are longtime members of the association. We were seventh world trade center in the world. There are now 330 of them.


MM commentary: The value is in how much you leverage the relationships.


MM: Why are South America and Africa underrepresented in the world trade center network?
NH: While I don’t know the percent, there have been substantial ones built recently in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and in the Middle East in Dubai.


MM commentary: Given that these are future growth areas, it’s important for them to get up to speed.


MM: How did you get involved with international trade?
NH: As deputy mayor, lieutenant governor and attorney general for Illinois, any time I had a chance to host a delegation I always found their approach fascinating.

U.S. Sen. Paul Simon talked about what cripples we are with languages. When I was a student in Europe in the 1950s, the person giving the bus tour spoke seven languages. I spoke a little bit of French and enough Spanish to buy a bank in Argentina. I wish I spoke more. Even if it’s only a few words, it’s appreciated.


MM commentary: While I think Neil is an old-school guy, his passion for international trade shines through.


MM: Anything else?
NH: We’ve been developing a system for years that helps small businesses. It’s going to be too late when people figure out how important trade is. Priorities have to change. We need to get aggressive on trade before it’s too late.


MM commentary: Wake up people and get out there!



Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at muth@midwestbusiness.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns in 2007:
Recession: International Causes, Effects of Today’s Global Financial Crisis (1/19/2009)
Q&A: Ex-Chicago Tribune, ‘Caught in the Middle’ Writer Richard Longworth (1/5/2009)
Q&A: Midwest Regional Director Michael E. Howard of Export-Import Bank (6/17/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Managing Partner Alex Golod on Belarusian Economy (4/15/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Managing Partner Alex Golod on Protecting Intellectual Property (4/9/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Partner Alex Golod on Being a Jack of All Trades (3/31/2008)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Unstoppable Freight Train (11/26/2007)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Global WiMAX Differences (11/20/2007)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Widespread WiMAX Growth (11/12/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Translation Tools, Costs (9/18/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Globalization, Translation (9/11/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Intercultural Translation Issues (8/7/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies on Specific Country Issues (7/10/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies Jr. on Cultural Differences (6/26/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry Gies on International Private Equity (6/11/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Foreign Deal Making (5/15/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market M&A (5/8/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market Firms (4/24/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Data Localization, Reach (3/27/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Partners, Personal Privacy (3/20/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Digital Mapping (3/7/2007)
Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.



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