Last week, while crossing the border between Canada and New York at Buffalo, the immigration inspector asked me what business I was in. I told him that among other things our firm, EDI, represents the trade and investment promotion interests of a number of US states in the Middle East as well as the investment promotion interests for Hong Kong in Israel. With a surprised look on his face, he exclaimed that he had no idea that US states had overseas offices. When I added that New York was one of the states with an extensive overseas network, he was simply shocked.
That scenario repeats itself regularly, regardless of where I am when I visit states we represent. Whether it is in a taxi in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania or Chicago or Indianapolis, the response is generally shock, surprise and then, even a bit of pride. Governments spend tens of millions of dollars a year assisting local companies to develop export markets abroad or to convince overseas companies to locate in their area, but few average citizens know about this.
A concomitant secret is that many of us who do this work professionally are part of a network of 18 other companies such as ours situated worldwide. Locations include Australia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, India, South Africa, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, The Netherlands, Germany, Central Europe (based in Prague), China, the UK, Taiwan, Canada, the US and Israel. Organized under the name IBG Global (www.ibgglobal.com), this group of business consultants has a combined staff of over 180 professionals, is active in 100 countries and has serviced well over 20,000 clients in its 15 year history.
At the beginning of December, 14 of the group’s 19 members met for three days in Israel to discuss business growth strategies and to meet Israel companies interested in business opportunities in the various markets represented by IBG members. On one day of the visit, a total of 407 one-on-one meetings took place between Israeli companies and the visiting IBG business consultants from around the world.
Very few people in the client states and countries served by IBG actually know about its work and even fewer seem to know that their tax dollars are supporting these efforts of their local and state governments to generate export business and to attract foreign companies to their states.
For example, Massachusetts commissioned a study three years ago that showed that the 200 Israeli-founded businesses operating in the state booked over $6b if revenue there, generated nearly $12b in economic benefit to the state, represented 2.9% of the state’s GDP in 2012 and directly employed over 6,600 people there. And that’s just one state while this story is replicated over and over again in other locations.
Winston Churchill once said: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
Governments should learn from Churchill and make it known to the citizenry the value that this activity brings to the general populace by growing the local economies through additional exports and foreign direct investment. By not doing so, a tremendous public relations opportunity is being overlooked; one that could encourage more companies to take advantage of these services.
Sherwin Pomerantz is president of Atid-EDI Ltd., an economic development consulting firm with 26 years’ experience in assisting overseas companies and public entities in their export promotion and foreign direct investment attraction efforts.