By Don Gardner
The following was originally published as a blog by the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development and is published with their permission.
Aida Dismondy has been on both sides of the cultural divide that separates American citizens from the rest of the world. As an Albanian who moved to the United States to begin her career, she took lessons in proper queen’s English to better communicate with her new American business cohorts. But, she quickly learned “How do you do? It’s a pleasure to meet you” was followed by a “Hey, how ya doin?” The queen’s English was a little too formal in the USA.
Bernard Bourgeois, the director of ecosystem development for the Michigan Israel Business Accelerator, agreed. He said many foreign business people speak English, but they don’t speak “American.”
After a particularly frustrating day at work, Laura Majewski, the human resources manager for the Spanish company SAPA Transmission, would say to her Spanish coworkers, “This is driving me nuts!” After several occasions in which her coworkers replied with quiet, puzzled looks, Majewski’s boss approached her one day to ask what that expression meant.
Dismondy, Majewski, and Bourgeois were three of five panelists with international business development experience who spoke to about 40 high school students on May 17 at an Academy Student’s International Business Roundtable at Velocity in Sterling Heights.
The common denominator throughout the presentation?
“The biggest challenge is understanding the cultural differences,” Dismondy said.
The international business students from Romeo and Center Line learned that narrowing the cultural divide is vital to making foreign businesses feel comfortable in the U.S.
SAPA Transmission is a great international success story for Macomb County. The company used the county International Landing Zone at Velocity, which allows businesses to integrate into the region with free office space for six months and other assistance in choosing to locate permanently in Shelby Township.
Once SAPA, which was founded in 1573, decided to look for a permanent space, Majewski said the company insisted on a red brick facade.
“Culturally, that’s a sign of success in Spain,” she said.
Bourgeois said for his clientele, it’s important to sell them on the benefits of Michigan.
“Israelis want to go to Palo Alto, California, or New York because they’ve heard of those places. We need to educate them on the value of locating in Michigan.
Curt Chowanic, a business developer for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development, just spent a week in Germany, making connections and pushing the value of expanding into Macomb County. He said many people he spoke to had never heard of Michigan. But they had heard of Detroit, with its worldwide notoriety as the automotive capital of the world.
Once a company has settled upon Michigan, specifically Macomb County, Chowanic said it’s imperative to help them learn the differences between their home country and the United States.
“We reach out to the business to help adapt to the differences between doing business in the United States compared to the United Kingdom. For example, things like accounting, legal, and workforce. Once we identify what their challenges are, we help them find things like space, attorneys, accountants, etc.,” Chowanic said. “We also sell them on Michigan and Macomb County and the quality education that our young people are receiving – their future workforce, and the quality of life here.”
Kurt Brauer, a partner at Warner Norcross and Judd LLP, agreed. He said the most common things foreign businesses are looking for are space, workforce, and regulations.
“Michigan’s environmental regulations are odd and always changing,” he said.
The best advice Majewski could give to foreign businesses that have decided to make Michigan home is to get involved with the community. Reach out to resources such as Velocity, Macomb County, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Bourgeois agreed.
“They need to take advantage of the assistance that is available to them, as opposed to trying to figure it out themselves,” he said.
To get in touch with any of the panelists or to learn more about the International Landing Zone, contact Curt Chowanic at email@example.com or call 586-242-3643.
Don Gardner is a communications specialist for Macomb County Planning and Economic Development who specializes in writing about Macomb County’s business environment. Please visit www.macombbusiness.com for more information.