Office of International Affairs closed? Maybe not

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Last week, the CSBJ reported that the city budget cuts would include closing the Office of International Affairs.

It’s hard to underestimate how important an office like this is to the city.

Sure, all of the cuts hurt, but this cuts the Springs ties to the rest of the world.

In 2007, the Springs accounted for 20.4 percent of Colorado’s total exports,  equaling $1.8 billion. With that kind of volume, Colorado Springs deserves its own Office of International Affairs.

The importance of the office was not lost on the consulting team that coordinated the Operation 60Thirtyfive action plan for economic development.

In the recently unveiled report, raising the Pikes Peak region’s international presence was listed as one of seven core strategy areas.

Jim Wittenburg, past president of the Peak Venture Group and president of Securics, a company that is working on a deal in Brazil to provide Biometrics for the Olympic Games security, said the office is the bridge that gives access to business abroad.

“Companies use the OIA to make connections overseas,” he said, “and to work through the tangled exporting regulations and find third-party representation in other countries to market their products and work with foreign cultures and facilitate introductions.”

Without the OIA, overseas business relationships won’t be easy to form.

You can’t just call your travel agent and book a flight to Germany and expect to hang a shingle. Business is about relationships, and having relationships in foreign lands is what George Boutin the retiring director of the OIA had. Boutin was able, through his many contacts, to get the city recognized as an official host city by the U.S. State Department. This qualified the city for grant money and the ability to host international visitors.

Boutin was also responsible for connecting local businesses with the London Olympic organizers, who are looking for service help and products for the London Olympics.

“Boutin was a former foreign service officer and had lived all over the world. He had the connections, knowledge and savvy to make international business happen,” said Nancy Kelly, who took PDP, an international management system product, to Japan, India and Germany over the last five years with Boutin’s assistance.

Kelly went on to say, “When the local economy is down, you need to go overseas to sustain your business.”

There is always Denver’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, should an international businessperson need some expertise. Boutin worked closely with that organization to put the Springs on the international map.

There are plans to restart the OIA.

The Chamber of Commerce, where the OIA has had office space, would be up to bringing the program into the chamber for 2010.

If the position can get funded for the first year, Dave Csintyan, CEO of the Chamber sees it as “a program that will pay for itself with possible membership and events, moving forward, it has to be a self-sustaining program”

I agree.

International business must remain a focus for the business community.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Lon.Matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5202.