Making connections is what George Boutin does — and those connections bring billions of dollars into the Colorado Springs economy.
As director of the Office for International Trade, Boutin spends most of his time helping companies to ease the expense and effort of entering foreign markets.
One of his most recent efforts involves a business that will import goods from China. The new company — owners are still creating the corporation — will add to the $2 billion that international business brings to the local economy.
Boutin not only brings foreign markets closer to the United States, he provides a forum for business representatives from other countries to discuss their markets with local business leaders.
Those visitors have focused on China, Japan and other Asian markets. In April, however, he will host a Scottish leader who will discuss that country’s global markets.
Henry McLeish, the first Scottish member of the British cabinet, was scheduled to speak at the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council. But he wanted a business audience as well — so he called Boutin.
Local business owners interested in hearing McLeish are invited to a meeting at 7:30 a.m. April 18 at Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak.
Boutin said that Scotland is developing the same types of technology that the Springs has invested in — life sciences, aerospace and energy.
But, his international focus doesn’t only extend overseas. Boutin said that the country’s largest trade partner isn’t across either ocean — it’s on the U.S. northern border.
“Canada is our most important trade partner,” he said. “They are our No. 1 energy supplier. They are so important to the U.S. in many, many areas — and, of course, there’s maple syrup.”
Canada is the focus of the annual International Mayor’s Lunch at the Broadmoor in June. Gen. Michael Fine, consul general of Canada, is speaking at the luncheon, which Boutin said he hopes will increase the level of trade between Colorado Springs and Canada.
The Office for International Trade focuses on exporting and does not help businesses import from other countries. That’s not why the city council created his position, Boutin said.
But making connections, overseeing meetings and helping expand business markets is only part of Boutin’s job. He also participates in what the State Department calls one of its most important programs.
Colorado Springs is one of 93 cities certified to host foreign business visitors who take part in the State Department’s international visitors program.
Visitors have explored Colorado Springs, and left with a better impression of the United States.
“Last year, we had people from Uzbekistan,” Boutin said. “And at the going-away reception, they had tears in their eyes. They kept saying they had no idea that America was like this — they considered America to be their friend now. It was a great, dramatic moment.”
And moments like that — creating favorable impressions with foreign leaders — is an important part of the State Department’s job, Boutin said. It’s also an important part of his job, as the “go-to” office for businesses in Colorado Springs that want to expand into foreign markets.
Nearly 1,000 businesses in the Springs have some sort of international presence, Boutin said. And those businesses contribute billions to the local and state economy.
Colorado Springs’ international business community hasn’t escaped the notice of one of state’s locally owned banks. Premier Bank, headquartered in Denver, has paid attention to Boutin’s efforts and has an office for international business in the Springs.
“The founder of the bank is from Taiwan,” said Bill Souba, director of the bank’s international programs. “And (the city) has a lot of international business contacts. It just made sense for him to open an office here.”
While other banks have international businesses offices — in other cities — Premier is the only bank with a local office dealing with international business.
“It’s an area we thought had some growth,” Souba said. “We can trade with the Import-Export Bank, do all the things larger banks can do. And we can do it from here in the Springs.”
All the effort shows that Colorado Springs has a strong international presence, Boutin said.
“We have a lot of resources in the community — there’s a way to get your product out there,” he said. “It’s important to know that doing business overseas can be easily accomplished.”