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Friday, Aug 12, 2022
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Local Diversity Boosts Global Opportunities

If you ask a dozen people what they like best about Los Angeles, you’re likely to get 12 different answers – including the beach, the mild climate, the vibrant arts scene, among others. But chances are that at least one of those 12 people will talk about L.A.’s cultural diversity. 

Throughout my graduate experience at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management, I learned first-hand about international and cross-cultural business from interacting with culturally diversified classmates and professors. In studying areas such as entrepreneurship and international marketing, I also learned that diversity and cultural awareness are major factors in creating a successful business in an ever-growing but challenging global business environment.

That’s significant, because it’s also an important community asset. In addition to the many benefits unique to our location, Los Angeles ranks among the most ethnically diverse communities in the country, according to 2010 census data. This unique and diversified composition of business communities in Los Angeles gives us a global business environment at the local level, where local businesses can resource global talent and test their business models for global feasibility before expanding into the global market.

Our business community reflects that diversity as well. The 2007 Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners notes that in the greater L.A.-Long Beach-Santa Ana area, more than 570,000, or 42 percent, of businesses are minority owned, with no fewer than 25 large, distinct associations and organizations representing their interests.

As Los Angeles continues to grow its influence in international trade, minority business organizations – and the companies that comprise their membership – will become an increasingly important global driver. However, in order to capitalize on the benefits of our diverse business community, we must engage in a more collaborative L.A.-oriented approach to global trade – one in which established businesses and business groups work alongside ethnic minority business groups to the mutual benefit of the greater community.

To understand why that’s important, we need to look no further than the recently released economic forecast and industry outlook from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

In 2013, two-way trade through the Los Angeles Customs District reached a record-setting volume of $415 billion; the LAEDC forecasts $424 billion in 2014 and $442 billion in 2015. 

By comparison, a global view paints a less rosy picture. Overall, sluggish U.S. export growth is projected to restrain the American economy this year. Similarly, export growth in many other countries is also lagging – in Germany, export growth slowed to 0.9 percent last year, while in China, export growth dropped to 8.6 percent after a decade of double-digit growth. The World Trade Organization downgraded its earlier prediction of 5.3 percent growth in international commerce to 4 percent, noting that risks are “predominantly on the downside.” 

This combination of factors suggests that our region and local businesses are well-positioned to increase our presence on the world-trade stage – especially if we work collectively to support initiatives that benefit the local business communities.

‘Cross-community’

In my role as director of education and mentoring program with the Los Angeles Overseas Korean Traders Association, I am responsible for the creation of a “cross-community” in Los Angeles that includes, but is not limited to, those organizations that serve the Korean, Chinese and Mexican markets to benefit trade with the United States. My vision for our cross-community is to connect people who share the same vision and passion; to engage entrepreneurs to learn insights from people with different cultures, backgrounds and experience; and create beneficial business and cultural opportunities.

I envision a Los Angeles where this smaller community is expanded to embrace a host of business associations and organizations, large and small, minority based and otherwise, that seek to better position Los Angeles for future international commerce endeavors. Also, to get there, state and local public policy must mirror federal policy that is already opening up international trade.

For example, Congress and the president passed free-trade agreements in 2011 with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, providing more market access for small-business exporters and helping to create jobs in the United States. The United States is currently considering additional new trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the latter sought by Europeans seeking to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of their industries. Timing remains uncertain, but it seems logical for a broad coalition of business organizations to support their passage, given our region’s role in international trade.

In the last 30 years, we capitalized on the Internet to become an interconnected world. An interconnected business community will bring the same benefits, including a common commitment to business growth in Los Angeles. As I learned in the M.B.A. program at Pepperdine, by harnessing the power of our region’s American diversity, where one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

Justin Suh is the director of education and mentoring with the Overseas Korean Trade Association of Southern California and a 2013 M.B.A. graduate of Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management.

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