Calif. to Open International Trade Offices
KQED’s STEPHANIE MARTIN: California just got more serious about cultivating overseas trade. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday to open international trade offices in countries with strong potential for lucrative partnerships with the Golden State.
A decade ago California had 12 such offices -- in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America -- but they were shut down in 2003 amid budget cuts.
Walnut Creek councilmember and mayor pro-tem Kish Rajan is the governor's pick to oversee the new, and somewhat different effort, as the director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, also known as GO-Biz.
Mr. Rajan: I'm a business owner trying to market my products and services in China. How can a trade office help me?
KISH RAJAN: Well, if you’re a small business owner in California, you probably have a lot of questions from the beginning about how in the world would I even begin to think about engaging in that Chinese market? How do I access it? And so what we intend with the new trade office that is authorized by AB2012 that Gov. Brown signed yesterday, what that does is allows us to do is go set up an office that will be administered by our department, by GO-Biz, but also done in partnership with nonprofits and other business-based organizations like the Bay Area Council, and collaboratively, us and our department from the state government, along with those nonprofit business partners, are going to establish mechanisms to allow your small business to find its way into availing itself of all the wonderful potentials of the Chinese market.
MARTIN: So what types of mechanisms are we talking about?
RAJAN: I think one of the keys here of this approach is this isn’t going to be a top-down government-driven approach. We’re really playing that important facilitative role, so that businesses on both sides can get together and identify where their partnerships can be mutually beneficial.
MARTIN: As I mentioned before -- the new trade offices will be set up differently from those that were shut down almost a decade ago... amid strong criticism that they were mainly there for show... and run by bureaucrats that didn't necessarily have strong international trade credentials. What’s different this time around?
RAJAN: The approach that we’re taking is as a facilitative role, and allowing direct business-to-business partnerships to form. I think the key is, that by bringing them together, they can identify the opportunities for success as opposed to a state office trying to define all of that.
MARTIN: When you talk about facilitating, what do you mean?
RAJAN: I think it’s really about communication. It’s about relationships. It’s about that connectivity between businesses in California and China, and as I say, I think once you’ve created a venue where people in both of these markets can come together and communicate and explore those possibilities, we want those business people to do what they do every day, which is see the possibilities and run with them.
MARTIN: It sounds like fundraising will be key to making these offices sustainable... and keeping the need for state funding to a minimum. How will that work?
RAJAN: We are looking at this as very much a public-private partnership, and groups like the Bay Area Council, where the governor was there yesterday signing the legislation, they are going to go out and work within their own membership and to do a lot of that fundraising to sustain and grow and make the offices as successful as possible. Now we’re getting multiple players involved with skin in the game, and I think it’s through that combined effort that we really believe that this will be a really successful endeavor indeed.
MARTIN: But there are already nonprofits like the Bay Area Council that have their own business-development offices abroad. What can a California trade office accomplish that those offices on their own can’t?
RAJAN: What we will do from the state perspective is be able to help convene the different groups within California and other places, and form really, a consortium of those folks that want to leverage the assets and the capabilities of our state government to do something bigger, that’s more efficient, and ultimately more effective.
MARTIN: Kish Rajan, thank you.
RAJAN: And Stephanie, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
MARTIN: Kish Rajan is the new director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development.