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Are you globally fluent?

blank-printable-world-map.pngThe world can be scary; there are places that have jumping vipers, people who eat slimy snails and cultures where saying “yes” actually means “no.”

So it’s no surprise people shy away from international work if they can play it safe in domestic markets. But a recent report by The Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase as part of its Global Cities Initiative highlights the necessity for U.S. metropolitan regions to think about global competitiveness.

The report asserts that rapid change, new technologies and more intense global competition can undermine a city’s economy very quickly. Worse, the more specialized a city’s economy is, the move vulnerable it is no matter how high-tech the city’s star industry.

The solution, according to the report, is to be become globally fluent. The authors have identified 10 traits of a globally fluent region, including leadership with a worldview; adaptability to global dynamics; opportunity and appeal to the world; ability to secure investment for strategic priorities; and a compelling global identity. The report encourages all members of a community — government, industry and academia — to align and get behind global initiatives.

For large-scale examples, the report cites the governor of California visiting China to pitch infrastructure projects to Chinese investors and the city of Chicago adding a “languages of the future” program in its school system offering Chinese and Arabic classes.

The report delves into smaller regions, too, noting the Greenville-Spartanburg region of South Carolina receives more foreign direct investment per capita than any other region in the U.S. The region boasts large investments from French, German and Chinese companies, including top names such as Michelin and BMW. Greenville-Spartanburg has built a global brand that is recognized abroad.

Becoming globally fluent isn’t quick or easy. But it is imperative if a community doesn’t want the same fate as Detroit or Rome or other cities that haven’t been able to keep up with the global economy. The report wants to get people talking about how to get their community to be more outward looking. With only 36 percent of the U.S. population holding valid passports, compared to 67 percent in Canada, the report argues that the United States is one of the world’s most inward-looking nations.

Many U.S. cities have begun investing in going global. The successful ones have a clear vision and their strategy is well communicated to the community. Do you know your state or cities’ international identity? Coordination among government, academia and industry is important to align resources and create a strong international identity to encourage exports and attract strategic foreign direct investment.

Overcoming an over-reliance on domestic markets is a problem for most federal government, academic and business leaders who are trying to encourage more global trade and investment. The report cites “fear of the unknown” or “comfort with the domestic market” as common reasons not to go abroad. A very small percentage of American firms are selling products or services outside our borders; this represents a huge missed economic opportunity. Moreover, it’s a competitive threat for American businesses. Seventy percent of global GDP growth between now and 2025 will occur in emerging markets, such as Brazil, India and China. Companies that leverage these new markets will be creating jobs of the future.

Foreign companies that become successful and create well-paying jobs of the future will likely be courted by American state and local economic development officials. The courting of successful foreign companies is nothing new for state economic development agencies, and now the federal government is playing a more active role. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration is hosting the first-ever SelectUSA 2013 Investment Summit. The summit helps connect foreign and domestic investors with government economic development professionals.

Companies that have a product or service to sell should take note and start looking beyond our borders for opportunities to better compete with foreign market competitors. Many state and local economic development offices provide export and trade assistance. Some also offer grant money to go abroad.

Plus, while the world can be scary, it can be wonderful, too. I would love to hear stories of first time experiences in doing business abroad!