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Lehigh receives state grant to enlist alumni in international trade efforts



Dick Brandt serves as the director of the Iacocca Institute.

Lehigh University has formally joined forces with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s (DCED) Office of International Business Development (OIBD) to attract international trade and foreign investment to Pennsylvania.

To assist with the cost, the state awarded the university a competitive grant of $180,000, the largest amount awarded to any university or college through the PA Global Alumni Network Grant.

“The overall goals of the PA Global Alumni Network are to increase foreign direct investment and trade opportunities for Pennsylvania,” says Leigh Walter, manager of the Global Alumni Network.

The grant will not only encourage economic development in the state, but also support the university’s commitment to expanding its international focus. It will encourage international collaboration between researchers and assist with alumni events throughout the world.

This program will bring promising companies to Pennsylvania and give young Lehigh alumni the opportunity for a cross-cultural experience, which is in keeping with Lehigh’s commitment to being a more global university.

“This (grant) fits well into what Lehigh has been doing to internationalize its campus and our plans to expand our international portfolio,” says Mohamed S. El-Aasser, Lehigh's vice president for international affairs.

Network to build relationships

Foreign investments and trade are an important part of Pennsylvania’s economy. Between 2002 and 2008, the volume of exports from Pennsylvania businesses increased nearly $17 billion and supported around 7,800 jobs last year, Walter says.

The commonwealth recently created the PA Global Alumni Network Grant to encourage economic development by reconnecting with alumni from its colleges and universities who are now living and operating businesses throughout the world.

“The network will establish partnerships with colleges and universities within the commonwealth,” Walter says. “International alumni will have the tools to search, catalog and communicate with thousands of foreign-based alumni who have attended schools in Pennsylvania.”

Walter refers in part to the DCED’s new alumni Web site, paalumnet.newpa.com, where graduates of Pennsylvania colleges and universities can submit their contact information. The site allows participants to discover professional opportunities and to reconnect with other alumni from Pennsylvania.

The receipt of this grant reinforces Lehigh’s existing, reciprocal relationship with the commonwealth, says Vito Gallo, Lehigh’s assistant vice president of state relations and government affairs.

Lehigh already works with the department on programs such as the South Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ), which draws on Lehigh’s technical and business experts to foster entrepreneurship in the Lehigh Valley.

“This is yet another important economic development connection between Lehigh and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development,” Gallo says.

A two-year cooperative plan

In its proposal, Lehigh University will partner with the DCED on international alumni events and professional conferences, as well as participate in other activities that encourage foreign investment and exportation of goods.

Wilfred Muskens, deputy secretary of the DCED's office of international business development, and Walters represented the commonwealth during a recent meeting with officials at Lehigh, including Dick Brandt, director of the Iacocca Institute in the Office of International Affairs.

Brandt led the meeting, where the representatives discussed how the grant would be implemented at Lehigh. The group established a two-year cooperative working plan that would include:

• Establishing a “PA Business Ambassadorship Project.”
• Promoting international professional seminars and conferences, especially through Lehigh’s Iacocca Institute.
• Partnering with Pennsylvania’s DCED to conduct international alumni meetings.

PA Ambassador Project

“The PA Ambassadors Project is the most creative (part of the plan),” Brandt says. This project will allow a handful of upper class students to combine an international work experience with market research.

Juniors and seniors will apply for the PA Ambassador Project prior to graduation and will be placed in a multinational company through the Iacocca Institute and the Office of International Affairs. While most of their time will be devoted to serving their company, they will also spend an allotted amount of time researching local businesses.

PA ambassadors will receive training from the DCED before they begin their project and a faculty mentor from Lehigh will oversee their research.

At the end the summer, the PA Ambassadors will deliver to the DCED a report of local businesses that may include information about local business opportunities and recommendation on potential foreign investors. These businesses would then be invited to Pennsylvania to hear a presentation by the PA Ambassadors and to meet with DCED personnel and key business leaders.

Opportunity to expand

The DCED will tap into several of Lehigh’s existing international efforts. One of these is the Iacocca Institute’s Global Village for Future Leaders of Business and Industry. Each year, promising professionals from countries across the globe matriculate into the training programs designed to prepare them to succeed in an increasingly international market. The Global Village’s flagship program is held annually at Lehigh, but every couple of years it holds similar a similar event, called Global Village on the Move, at locations throughout the world.

These locations are selected because they are “epicenters of business,” says Beth Simmons, manager of professional education at the Iacocca Institute.

Lehigh will invite members of the DCED to attend the Global Village on the Move in the Ruhr Valley of Germany in 2010 and in Lima, Peru in 2011.

Lehigh also plans to expand some of its existing programs to meet the DCED’s goals. The DCED and Lehigh’s Alumni Association will co-sponsor gatherings of former students and their parents in countries such as Korea, China, Turkey and England. They may also bring high-profile speakers to speak at alumni events.

--Rebecca Straw


Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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