Disney had it right years ago: It’s a small world

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke, GJ Chamber

It’s been years since I took my toddlers to Disney World and rode that ride with them accompanied by the song that just won’t leave your head once you’ve heard it.  In that decade or so, the small world has gotten even smaller and it has an impact on our economy in Grand Junction, both positive and negative.

            International trade is part of our daily economy.  We know it because the local Chamber of Commerce is the only local entity that many companies accept as legitimately certifying that a product or part is manufactured, wholesaled, or shipped from where a business says it is coming from.  Governments are not to be trusted but chambers of commerce exist throughout the world so a signature and a stamp from the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce on these certificates of origin helps promote local job growth.

            We’ve signed certificates of origin for items being shipped to every continent except Antarctica in the past couple of years.  Whenever we do that I feel a certain satisfaction in knowing that globalization has to some degree provided employment for a local resident.  So far this year I’ve learned of two new companies in the area because they needed our services.  One was shipping a product to Israel…the other to Egypt.

            Yet, at the same time some companies are thriving by selling to customers globally other local firms struggle to compete with foreign competitors who have the advantage government backing.  It is no longer just call centers that are going off shore.  A growing number of sophisticated processes requiring highly skilled workers are also at risk of leaving not just Grand Junction but the United States.  And, often, it is not the usual suspects such as China or India these companies face off against but countries like Turkey and Brazil.

            It is not just the manufacturing processes but access to raw materials that may hinder the growth of primary employers locally and nationally.  For example, China has locked up roughly 95% of the world’s rare earth minerals.  These are essential building blocks for our clean and green technologies.  They are used in wind turbines, hybrid car batteries and energy efficient lighting.  China, by limiting its exports of rare earth materials forces international companies to locate their manufacturing facilities in China.  The United States, the European Union and Japan all filed a case in March against China for violating international trade rules by this action.

            But in the meantime, job growth remains sluggish in the United States and local firms here face an uphill climb.

            Railing against the reality of globalization is about as useful as wishing for the return of the horse and buggy to offset high gasoline prices.  It is here to stay and we must as a country, a state and a local economy find ways to stay competitive or see even more of our local jobs disappear.

            I have great faith in the culture of this country that creates opportunity and entrepreneurship.  But, we also need a national policy that embraces manufacturing and provides it with the tools necessary to compete.  These include a trained workforce, balanced regulations, and access to technical and financial assistance.

            We already have a start.  The Rocky Mountain Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (RMTAAC) has a program and grant funds in place to help “import impacted U.S. companies develop and implement business recovery strategies to strengthen their competiveness in the global marketplace.”  Grants are matching in nature and cannot be used for capital but they are aimed at the small and medium businesses that dot the Western Slope.  

            The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade along with the World Trade Center in Denver can also assist local manufacturing firms grow their exports.

            According to the National Association of Manufacturers, in 2009 90% of the state’s exports were manufacturing related and over 95,000 Colorado jobs were tied to exports in some way.  But, from 2003 to 2009 Colorado’s manufactured exports grew by only 2% compared to a national average of 70%, indicating we still have a lot of room to grow our markets and our jobs by focusing on the global economy.

            An idea floated recently at one of the Chamber’s energy briefings even focused on exploring the potential of exporting our abundant natural gas, in liquid form to Asia as a way to grow our local economy and jobs in the next 5-10 years.  It is worth exploring.

            Every day as I see those certificates of origin come through the door and talk with local manufacturing firms I become more convinced that we must accept the reality of globalization and find more ways to profit from it.  Because…it really is a small world after all.