It seems that a conversation I had with a writer from the U.S. State Dept. at the Forum worked its way into an article. Here it is:
19 August 2008
Forum Encourages Latin American Colleges to Add Business Courses
Americas Competitiveness Forum also offers networking opportunities
By Eric Green
Atlanta– The United States, working in partnership with the private sector, is encouraging academic institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean to educate their students for specialized skills that are needed by the region’s business community, an official with the U.S. Department of Commerce tells America.gov.
Walter Bastian, Commerce’s deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, said the region has many universities that produce numerous historians, sociologists and language majors, “all of which are noble professions,” but “don’t necessarily meet the needs of the [Latin America and Caribbean] business community.”
Bastian said leaders for such companies as Motorola Inc., Intel Corporation, and EDS (Electronic Data Systems) tell him that they are seeking to hire students who have been educated as research scientists or in marketing, advertising and vocational fields that have practical use for the business community.
In an interview at the second annual Americas Competitiveness Forum, held August 17-19 in Atlanta, Bastian said the event, which he helped organize, aimed to build partnerships between the public and private sectors to help academic institutions, including technical vocational colleges, “develop programs and curriculums that provide the kinds of skills that business needs.”
The 2007 and 2008 Atlanta events each attracted about 1,000 participants from the Americas
, including government officials from 30 Latin America and Caribbeannations, to discuss competitiveness and related regional issues, Bastian said.
The unexpectedly large turnout at the forum in 2007, he said, showed “that maybe we’re on to something — that the fish are biting [showing great interest], which I don’t mean in the pejorative. So we decided” to hold a second forum in 2008 that included participation by three heads of state (from Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala).
Because the issues discussed at the forum have attracted so much interest throughout the Western Hemisphere, said Bastian, Chile has offered to host a third competitiveness forum in 2009, while already in the past year both Uruguay and Nicaragua held conferences on innovation.
The message coming out of Atlanta, said Bastian, is “to share ideas across countries” in the Americas, “that not all solutions” for the region’s challenges “come from the United States
.” Bastian said that “we want to find out,” as examples, what mayors from Chile are doing to improve their mass transit systems, and “what the Mexicans are doing with waste disposal” and “how to turn that into energy.”
He described competitiveness as a nonpartisan issue, which does not fall right or left of center on the political spectrum. Rather, improving competitiveness is about “how to move and produce goods more efficiently, and for creating jobs, growing economies and improving social conditions” in the Americas , said Bastian.
Lisa Koss, the liaison for an organization called the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), represents the type of nongovernmental participant that Bastian hoped to attract to the Atlanta forum.
Koss told America.gov that her role for the 9,000-member NAWBO is to create better opportunities for American business women, who in turn will “reach out to do business” with women entrepreneurs in Latin America.
One example of NAWBO’s partners in the region, Koss said, is the Mexican Association of Women Entrepreneurs, a leading Mexican organization for women business owners.
NAWBO also is affiliated with the World Association of Women Entrepreneurs, comprised of more than 40 member countries with 29,000 business owners and members representing business, academia, government, education, agriculture and other fields.
Koss also wears another “hat” as the founder and president of International Advantage in Phoenix, where she works with global business clients to improve their productivity.
Another participant, Laszlo Horvath, president of Virginia-based ActiveMedia, told America.gov that the Atlanta event was a “terrific opportunity to meet with dedicated, business savvy executives” from the Latin American region. Horvath said he came to the meeting to “find strategic partners and re-sellers” of his firm’s service, which connects his clients’ Web sites to target markets.
His company, Horvath said, provides a “vehicle” for Latin American firms “that desire to be visible for their international clients.” He said “search engine optimization and search marketing are already the dominant channels for increasing sales.”
Eduardo Castro-Wright, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores USA, said in a keynote speech at the Atlanta event that his company supports a program in Central America
called Tierra Fertil that helps small local suppliers fill his firm’s “larger-scale needs.” Through that program, Wal-Mart teaches Central American farmers techniques that “will help them yield bigger and better harvests. That, in turn, enables them to supply our stores,” Castro-Wright said.
As Wal-Mart suppliers, Castro-Wright said the farmers “are able to reap the benefits of being in our supplier network,” allowing them, for example, to have access to “much-needed financing or tools that help them better manage their inventory.”