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Why YOU Should Attend the WTCA Member Seminar: Key Takeaways from a Past Attendee

Oliva Ibañez, Brand Manager, WTC Asunción

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I can still remember the first World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) event I attended: the 2018 Member Seminar. I was very nervous because I had to address colleagues from all over the world and talk about the upcoming Latin American Regional Meeting, which World Trade Center (WTC) Asunción was preparing to host shortly thereafter. After reading about past Member Seminars, memorizing the names of key Members to meet, and drafting notes for my speech, I felt that nothing prepared me for what I soon experienced — the warm welcome I received from my fellow Members. After all of the panels, MAC meetings, workshops, conversations, and other social activities, I quickly realized the whole event was filled with camaraderie amongst WTCA Members and staff, and each person I met had been in my place before and were eager to meet me and learn about my WTC. Moreover, there were lessons I learned that I could put into practice as soon as I returned home.

In my particular case, as WTC Asunción was preparing for the upcoming Regional Meeting, I was tasked to share key topics from the agenda, as well as information about our WTC including what projects WTC Asunción was working on and what it was like working with the local government, the impact we had in the corporate market in Paraguay, as well as our economic and investment dynamics. It was astonishing to see how our work interested WTCs from distant regions, especially WTCs from the United States who had commercial ties to Latin America, and even WTCs from China. As a result of our efforts to share our upcoming event and network with other Members, our Regional Meeting was highly attended not only by Members from the Latin America region but also from regions across North America, Europe, and Asia.

The annual Member Seminar is a unique, enlightening, and educational experience. It provides a valuable opportunity to bolster your global perspective, learn about the successes and challenges from other WTCs, and get their insights on what is happening within their local markets. Listening to case stories and best practices is the best way to learn from each other and help others succeed. Whenever people ask me what’s the best thing about being part of the WTCA, I always answer “my fellow Members.” I believe it´s because of the network’s global reach, the genuine connection, and how we all learn from each other. There is great diversity in the 325-plus WTCs from nearly 100 countries around the world, and WTCA Members truly want to share their stories, and to connect with and help each other for the improvement of global trade and investment.

This October will mark my second year attending the annual Member Seminar — my fourth WTCA event overall — and I’m very excited about this year’s program, and to re-connect with my fellow Members. To those who are going for the first time, or those who are still having doubts about going, I will say this — not only will the agenda topics be very interesting and the location of the venue in New York City amazing, but, my dear colleagues, please don´t miss out on this opportunity. Everyone is eagerly awaiting your attendance and participation. You are part of this diverse, global community, and we can’t wait to learn all about you and all that you’re doing at your WTC!


Connections for “Leaner” Innovation

Matt Phillips, President, Phillips & Co.

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As part of its upcoming Member Seminar, WTCA has once again invited Phillips & Co. to lead several sessions, one of which is on “Lean Innovation.” Because connection is central to the theme of the event and the process of reinvention — and to the value of belonging to our global network — we asked Matt Phillips, founder and president, to offer some ideas on connection as a preview of that workshop.

Silicon Valley innovators and small startups often innovate faster and cheaper than larger organizations. But by developing new connections and using a “Lean Innovation” approach, established organizations can innovate at startup speed.

With the rapid pace of change in today’s world, everyone needs to innovate. Innovation — the use of new methods to achieve your team’s goals — is now required of all organizations to stay relevant. For many people, innovation brings to mind technology: smartphones, electric cars and the latest cool app. It turns out that the methods used to create these innovations can be used by any organization to drive change faster and more cost-effectively.

Connections: Power of the People

Creating anything new is a lot like building with LEGO® blocks. Most innovations are simply the combination of something that already existed with something that’s new to a market or industry. In fact, many of the world’s greatest ideas came from connections made by two people with different expertise. Cirque du Soleil, the multi-billion-dollar Canadian entertainment leader, was founded by a circus performer and an expert in Broadway theater. Without this unusual human connection — connecting these two pieces — Cirque wouldn’t exist. As an innovator, part of your job is to seek out new “LEGO® pieces” that, when combined with something else, create something new and valuable.

A New Mindset: Lean Innovation

Typically, innovation is seen as very risky. People fear building something that fails in the market and losing the investment that went into it. “Lean Innovation” is a new approach that makes the process of inventing and launching new ventures easier, with lower risk.

Consider the “Pareto Principle,” which says that 20 percent of what you do often produces 80 percent of the results. In Lean Innovation, we try to do just the 20 percent of work that will give us most of the impact.

Another idea behind Lean Innovation is to test ideas early and often with real customers to figure out what they want before fully investing in a new idea. This is very different from the approach many organizations use, which often can take far too long, cost too much, and become so complicated that innovation projects run out of budget or time. In Lean Innovation, teams try to move quickly and experiment often, avoiding lengthy meetings and complicated approval processes. Using simple prototypes, they work to understand what people want before fully investing in launching it.

Zappos.com

Zappos is a global online retailer that sells shoes, bags, clothing and more. However, back in 1999, when entrepreneur Nick Swinmurn first had the idea to sell shoes online, few companies sold apparel on the internet making it a crazy, foreign idea. Most people assumed that shoe buyers would always want to go into a shoe store to try shoes on – so an online shoe store simply wouldn’t work.

In an interview with Fortune Swinmurn talked about how he came up with the idea. “One day I was at the mall and couldn’t find a pair of the Airwalk desert boots I wanted. So I thought, ‘why not do an online shoe store?’”

At this time, large organizations followed a typical process — they would commission a study, research the market for 6-12 months, and perhaps then begin to invest in a staff, facility, inventory, financial systems, and more to make their idea a reality. But that’s not what Swinmurn did. “[To test my idea] I went to Footwear Etc. in Sunnyvale, California and said, ‘I’ll take some pictures, put your shoes online, and if people buy them, I’ll buy them from you at full price.’ The store said ‘okay,’ and I got a few orders,” said Swinmurn.

Swinmurn did something brilliant — instead of trying to raise millions of dollars or build the perfect online store, he built an imperfect first website and put shoes on it, selling them without a profit. While this clearly isn’t a path to building a sustainable organization, it gave him something extremely valuable at this point in developing the idea: proof that people would actually take action and buy shoes online. This was incredible insight in 1999 that would later shape what e-commerce is today.

Due to the success of his small website (which was originally called Shoesite.com), Swinmurn was able to raise money from outside parties to cover the cost of slowly growing the company. Along the way, he changed the company’s name to Zappos, a play on the Spanish word “zapatos.” In a short amount of time and little cost, he had achieved what some organizations spend months or years trying to do — to see if an idea is a good one.

Eventually, this online shoe store grew rapidly and, according to Forbes , was purchased by Amazon for US $1.2 billion dollars. In this example we see the value of taking a “Lean” approach by quickly testing ideas and, by connecting with a local shoe store, he was able to build a prototype far faster than working alone.

Innovating with Connections at Scale

Global giants like Apple, Proctor & Gamble, and Samsung regularly look outside of their companies to find the best ideas, quickly spotting new technologies and identifying new partners. This concept is called “Open Innovation,” meaning that instead of looking inside of their organization, executives reach out to the rest of the world. Many organizations have built partnerships with local universities, inventors, and companies to create and launch ideas they couldn’t achieve on their own.

A key benefit of being a WTCA Member is access to the association’s global network of business and non-profit leaders, and their collective wealth of knowledge. By fully tapping into the WTCA network, Members can quickly share their expertise, test new business ideas regionally or globally, and launch new ventures with less risk and greater certainty.

Matt Phillips is president of Phillips & Co., an innovation consulting and training company based in Chicago, Illinois. For more than 15 years, Phillips & Co. has helped mid-sized and Fortune 500 organizations invent and launch breakthrough products, experiences, and brands. Their clients include Dell, Paramount Pictures, and Hyatt Hotels. Learn more at phillips-co.com.


WTCA Meridian™ September 2019 Issue

The September issue of the WTCA's official publication is out now!

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China is and Remains Open for Business

Craig Allen, President, US-China Business Council

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Despite the news we read in the headlines every day, make no mistake: China is and remains a good place to do business for companies around the world. China is an important engine of global growth and will be for the foreseeable future as fully one-third of global GDP will be generated by China over the next ten years. While US-China trade talks continue to cause some disruption, tariff rates for many China imports have declined, resulting in increased imports from many of China’s other trading partners. Let’s take a look at three prevailing trends that are fueling these continued opportunities for global commerce in China.

Continuing Ease of Entry Barriers

Due to ongoing Chinese economic liberalization and a reduction of taxes, tariffs, and investment restrictions, it has actually gotten easier for many of China’s trading partners to succeed there. Many foreign companies continue to thrive and report substantial profitability by catering to Chinese customers. These profits are sent home to corporate headquarters and used to generate more jobs. Research and Development done in China helps companies remain competitive at home, in China, and in other world markets. China continues to open on many fronts, and in particular, the financial services sector, allowing 100 percent foreign ownership.

Businesses can find one especially encouraging example of this continued opening in Alibaba, the Chinese-owned e-commerce platform. The company recently announced that foreign companies can engage in business-to-business transactions when previously, non-Chinese firms could only make purchases. Now Chinese companies can buy products from foreign companies on this platform, using the host’s algorithms to find suppliers.

Local Opportunities and Infrastructure Investment

Companies outside China should also look hard at provincial- and city-level investment opportunities, as officials are often eager to welcome foreign investment and provide matchmaking services for their local businesses. Some have sizable procurement budgets and welcome foreign-company participation, especially in sectors such as environmental technologies and services, alternative energy, and medical equipment. Chinese private sector companies at the regional level are looking for foreign partners to help them remain competitive as the economy transforms from manufacturing and export to services and domestic consumption.

Another potential growth area is the Belt and Road Initiative which promotes and finances large infrastructure projects in developing countries. These projects may provide opportunities through subcontracts from China’s large state-owned enterprises, which need additional expertise.

Increased Availability of Expertise

Aside from e-commerce, opportunities for starting or expanding business in China are best unlocked with assistance from expertise on the ground, which is only growing in availability. The US-China Business Council—with offices in Beijing and Shanghai—provides a wealth of resources for US companies. Businesses from other foreign countries should look to their embassies and consulates in the country for assistance, which often have a commercial section that can help. Likewise, if you belong to an industry association, check to see what resources they may have in China. World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) Members and their local companies have access to an abundance of China expertise through the WTCA network.

There is no other market in the world with 1.3 billion people and an annual growth rate that exceeds six percent. If you want to be successful in the world, you need to be successful in China. If you are a smaller company, you should consider if the market is right for you, which means not being discouraged by what you see in the media. The bottom line is that China is and remains open for business. And as it continues to expand its presence in global affairs, companies around the world will only benefit in working together to tackle more complex issues that await us in the near future.

This post was made possible by support from the US-China Business Council (USCBC), a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of approximately 200 American companies that do business with China. Founded in 1973, USCBC has provided unmatched information, advisory, advocacy, and program services to its members for over four decades. Through its offices in Washington, D.C., Beijing, and Shanghai, USCBC is uniquely positioned to serve its members' interests in the United States and China. Visit https://www.uschina.org/ to learn more. To access reports made available to the public, visit https://www.uschina.org/reports.


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Welcome to the Agricultural Revolution: Reflections on the Inaugural AgMAC Summit

Zhang Hongshan; Board Member, WTCA; Chairman, Agriculture Member Advisory Council; Chairman, WTC Harbin

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The agriculture industry plays a vital role in daily life around the world. It is not only the leading contributor to global GDP, but it also plays a critical role in global food safety and satisfies people’s expectations for quality food and lifestyle.

Recently, however, the industry—“agribusiness,” for short—has become the focal point of conversations among global leaders as issues around food security continue to rise. One prime issue: how to feed a growing population while managing the world’s ever-declining resources. To help address this global challenge, with the support of Headquarters World Trade Centers Assocition (WTCA), Members established the Agriculture Member Advisory Council (AgMAC) during the General Assembly in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. Comprised of more than 50 WTCA Members who are focused on agribusiness, including World Trade Center (WTC) Harbin, the AgMAC’s mission is to establish a sustainable future through innovation and technology, and explore opportunities for agricultural trade and development through joint efforts.

To kick start its key initiatives, the AgMAC hosted the inaugural 2019 Agriculture and Trade Development Global Summit and World Trade Center Exhibition at the China World Trade Center in Beijing, China, which ran from July 9-12. During the four-day event, more than 100 representatives from various WTCs and business delegations gathered to exchange views on promoting regional and global economic and trade development through the WTCA network. Because China plays an important role in the world’s agricultural and trade development—ranked number one in worldwide farming output with more than 300 million people working in the Chinese agriculture industry—there was a great focus on the opportunities available in China and the greater Asia-Pacific region. Additionally, the Chinese diet has become more “westernized,” creating a diverse demand of foods throughout the region. Over the next five years, it is expected that China will import more than US $10 trillion in goods and services, which offers great opportunities for enterprises all over the world to enter its vast domestic market.

Overall, the summit was a great success and resulted in several collaborative opportunities amongst WTC Members. WTC Harbin signed strategic-cooperation-partnership agreements with eight WTCs—including Beijing, Dandong, Jinzhong, Nanning, Shenyang, Tianjin, Xi'an, and Zhengzhou—to strengthen their partnership in the future. Several WTCs—including WTC Shenyang, Sydney, and Taiwan, amongst others—have also expressed their intention to partner in the fields of agricultural science and technology, agricultural deep processing, and enterprise network services. The summit also fostered collaborative opportunities for outside companies as well, including a few business delegations brought in by WTC Dublin. For example, an interest to import 3,000-5,000 alpacas was established between K2Alpacas Ireland and Inner Mongolia Alpaca Technology Co. Ltd from China. A number of other Chinese companies also expressed strong interest to work with Ireland-based Listoke Distillery & Gin School to promote gin consumption and training in China.

The exhibition portion of the event offered attendees a peek into the cutting-edge agricultural solutions and services that various WTCs provide. Comprised of more than 30 booths and international volunteers, the exhibition provided a platform in which WTCs could gain direct access into the Chinese market. More than 100 corporate buyers and key senior decision-makers from China visited the exhibition and discussed possible partnerships with the WTC exhibitors.

On behalf of WTC Harbin and the other AgMAC Members, we would like to thank all the WTCs who attended, as well as the WTCA Beijing Representative Office, for all their support in making this inaugural event a great success. We’re excited to continue our efforts to make this an annual event.

For more information on the AgMac Summit, please visit www.agmacsummit.com.
For more information on WTC Harbin, visit www.hhjygroup.com.