Southwest Tennessee Community College

May 19, 2004

Contact: Kimberly Stark, (901) 333-4023 -- Marilyn Duncan, (901) 333-4247

IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY –  AND A LITTLE BRIBERY CAN BE A GOOD THING, TOO! SOUTHWEST/MEMPHIS IN MAY BUSINESS CONFERENCE SETS LOCAL SIGHTS ON SOUTH AFRICA

Build a new business, find a new trading partner – and get a lot of help every step of the way. The Workforce Development Center of Southwest Tennessee Community College on May 3 and 4 co-sponsored, with the Memphis In May (MIM) International Festival, a two-day business conference, “Workforce Development Strategies: Making Global Connections Through the Employer Services Network,” putting local small business into the opportunity picture with the MIM honored country – South Africa.

“We hope this will be a catalyst for continuing dialogue relative to the role of the community college in helping develop and meet the needs of a global economy,” said Dr. Joy Miller Hardy, executive director of the Center at 3523 Lamar Avenue. “As the only community college in the region with such a center, we are uniquely poised to play a major role in training individuals for the future.”

The Center pulled together entrepreneurs and experts who have "been there, done that" in South Africa and are ready and eager to network with enterprising local business people. Also on hand were representatives of the state, the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Memphis in May and the education and research sectors. About 75 people attended or participated during the two-day event.

Senator Roscoe Dixon opened the first session, offering full cooperation and assistance of state programs and offices concerned in promoting international trade. Along with Tennessee General Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry, he praised the entrepreneurial spirit propelling the seminar and the conferees searching for new ways and places to do business.

Tennessee business already enjoys a significant export trade with South Africa and "The natural resources are there," according to Marvell Mitchell, managing partner of Mitchell Technology Group. Those resources include gold, platinum, copper, chromium, coal, marble, uranium, gem diamonds, oil and natural gas. Mitchell recently toured South Africa with an eye to business ventures, meeting with some very successful and wealthy African business leaders. He is considering several importing and other options he discovered during his visit.

Tennessee Commissioner of Economic & Community Development Matt Kisber urged attendees to take advantage of programs the state already has in place to help small business move into the global marketplace, including Pathfinder Management, a South African company that maintains a showroom in Nashville and assists Tennessee businesses to participate in South African trade.

"And we've launched a new initiative,” Kisber said. “The Business Enterprise Resource Office – BERO – is aimed at providing small and minority-owned businesses extensive technical assistance, plus advice, counsel and direction for identifying sources of capital for growth and development."
As for a little bribery being a good thing, conference panelists agreed. Bribery may be a dirty word in America, but in other countries, particularly Third World countries, it’s considered a must for business. Other practices deeply embedded in our system are rebates and “special” discounts for certain customers – not to mention the universal tipping system. So, a “gratuity” – perhaps, to a dock manager for expediting delivery of a shipment – is seen as simply a part of a business transaction.


Philip Johnson, vice president for international development for the Memphis Regional Chamber, who is charged with attracting foreign investment, offered the chamber's support, as did Blair DeWeese, of the International Trade Center in Memphis. Also available with a lot of "on the ground" experience is Bogdan Diaconesu, manager for international sales at Drexel Chemical Company, who has worked and done business in South Africa for several years.

For entrepreneurs interested in investigating possibilities, the Workforce Development conference emphasized "research and go." Panelists, including Dr. Albert Okunade, professor of economics in the Fogelman College of Business at University of Memphis, have much of the research information at their fingertips and are happy to share it.

The importance of understanding the culture in a potential global business venture was emphasized by Dr. Ben L. Kedia, director of the Wang Center for International Business and Research and the International MBA program, who also holds the Robert Wang Chair of Excellence in International Business at the University of Memphis. Some perhaps surprising notes about South Africa:

  • It is classed as a "middle income" economy with a Gross Domestic Product per capita annual income of $3,110. But the comparative income levels of white and black citizens are deeply impinged by years of apartheid; and the unemployment rate, primarily in the black populations, is 30 percent).
     

  • It has well-developed financial, legal, energy and transport sectors.
     

  • Its stock exchange ranks among the 10 largest in the world.
     

  • Its communications system is the best developed and most modern in Africa.

The so-called "Dark Continent" of years past is aggressively pursuing a bright future despite unspeakable tragedy in some countries, and South Africa is leading the drive. Imports and exports account for more than 20 percent of the country's GDP, and South African government policy actively encourages international trade through such measures as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows free trade with the United States and African countries. The Academic Entrepreneurial Society of South Africa focuses on development of entrepreneurial talent and the development of micro enterprises.

On the second day of the conference, John Fowlkes, Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer, posed the questions “Is Shelby County ready? Do we have a workforce prepared to take on the challenges presented by new businesses?” He stressed the importance of workforce development in the face of the outsourcing trends in the job market. “Why are companies going elsewhere? A business is no better off than the community in which it operates. That’s why what you do here is so important in Shelby County.”

Also featured was Dr. Larry N. Long, Director of Sales and Marketing for ACT, an independent, not-for-profit global leader in assessment, research and workforce development services. He introduced ACT’s Workforce Productivity Solutions that provide businesses a full spectrum of training, testing and consulting services designed to improve the skills of America’s workforce. A panel discussion on workforce training solutions featured Barbara Knight, Human Resources Manager with Thomas & Betts; Ronald Pegues, Operations Training Facilitator with Solae; Donald Cash, Human Resources and Employment Benefits Manager with Lucite Technologies, and Wade Hardy, Human Resources Manager with Temple Inland. They discussed real-world applications of ACT’s systems in helping to recruit, train and retain employees.

The conference was the first of several the Workforce Development Center plans to conduct focused on partnering with the business community in workforce development initiatives. Call the Center, 3523 Lamar Avenue, at (901) 333-6200.

CAPTION...

Attending the Memphis In May/Workforce Development Center two-day seminar were (from left) Deborah Reed, assistant director, Minority Business Development, Continuing Education and Community Partnerships at Southwest Tennessee Community College; Ben Kedia, director, Wang Center for International Business Research; Franketta Guinn, manager, Monguinn Enterprises Consulting; Blair DeWeese, International Trade Center; Dr. Joy Hardy, executive director, Southwest Tennessee Community College Workforce Development Center; Bogdan Diaconesu, manager of International Sales, Drexel Chemical Company; and Phillip Johnson, vice president of International Development, Memphis Regional Chamber.