WMU News

Grant to boost Asian-Pacific business opportunities

May 26, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- A new grant to Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business will boost Asian Pacific opportunities for students and help West Michigan firms seeking to expand their international marketing capabilities.

A $70,675 award from the U.S. Department of Education will support the first year of a two-year project called the Asian Pacific Education Program. The project is designed to develop the Asian Pacific expertise of business faculty members, expand undergraduate and graduate offerings to include study and internships in that region and assist area businesses in expanding their export opportunities.

"Since more than 30 percent of U.S. trade is with Asian Pacific countries, our program will focus on that area as we work to increase the international skills and enhance export opportunities that are needed by both today's businesses and tomorrow's managers," says Dr. Roger Tang, professor of accountancy and holder of the Upjohn Chair in Business Administration. Tang, Dr. F. William McCarty, professor of finance and commercial law, and Dr. Zahir Quraeshi, professor of marketing, are co-directors of the project.

Government, business and economic development organizations across West Michigan have made commitments to help implement the project's entire range of activities. Those activities will include a bi-monthly lecture series on global business issues beginning in the fall of 1998, two export development workshops and a major Asian Pacific conference in the year 2000.

McCarty notes that a 1997 survey of about 250 West Michigan firms shows that 75 percent of those responding said they expect the people they hire to have knowledge of various foreign cultures and the ability to operate in an international environment. There is also clear evidence, he notes, that West Michigan firms have begun to focus on trade opportunities in countries like China, Malaysia and Singapore.

However, Quraeshi says, there are many untapped business opportunities for West Michigan companies. A number of firms, he notes, currently lack the know-how to enter the export market. Both federal and state government officials and experienced exporters will participate in the project's special workshops, which are designed to help area businesses overcome barriers to developing their Asian exports. The first workshop will take place in March 1999, while the second is planned for April 2000. Both general and area specific export issues for West Michigan firms will be addressed in the workshops.

"Small- and medium-sized companies, in particular, are intimidated by the perceived complexities of international trade," McCarty says. "Knowledge of export regulations, customs procedures, ocean and air transit practices and letter of credit transactions are among the topics most frequently mentioned as desired for new employees by respondents to our 1997 survey of 250 regional firms."

The Asian Pacific trade conference planned for the year 2000 will mark the sixth time WMU has sponsored a major conference on international trade. Previous conferences in 1990 and 1995 focused on trade with Asia, while trade relations with Canada and Mexico were explored at three other conferences.

Tang says the conference is intended to provide a forum for academicians, policy makers and business representatives to present and exchange perspectives and knowledge about the developing trade center. Those attending the two previous Asian Pacific conferences represented institutions from 15 countries. The next conference will be based partly on suggestions for needed topics made by those who attended the earlier conferences.

While the project directors and their colleagues are working to help area businesses tap Asian Pacific markets, they also will be focusing attention both on the college's international curriculum and on developing international opportunities for faculty and students.

"We're planning to internationalize our business programs by increasing study abroad opportunities, developing and strengthening linkages with colleges and universities in the Pacific Rim and adding to the international expertise of our faculty," Quraeshi says.

A major goal of the project is to develop new opportunities for both faculty and students to take part in intensive foreign study programs. By tapping a network of alumni and friends of the University who play key roles in firms doing business in the region, the project directors plan to set up international study forums and international internship opportunities for students.

New courses or modules for existing courses also will be developed throughout the Haworth College of Business. They will be designed with an Asian Pacific regional focus to complement such basic international courses as international marketing, finance and business law. As a result, WMU students will graduate with region-specific skills and an enhanced understanding of the Asian Pacific business environment.

According to McCarty, Quraeshi and Tang, the grant project will result in increased faculty expertise and student awareness of business conditions in the Asian Pacific region. Those developments will provide West Michigan firms with access to human resources that will give them a competitive edge in conducting business with Asian firms or organizations.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland; cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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