For New Grads, Global Trade Means Local Opportunities

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We recently celebrated another commencement at IUPUI, recognizing the achievements of the Class of 2016 as they eagerly embrace a new professional and personal chapter in their lives.

We’re proud that the majority of our graduates have an array of career options but choose to stay in Indianapolis.  We’re also enthusiastic about a group that is less likely to settle in Central Indiana (for now): The hundreds of international students who recently earned their degrees.

These grads are part of a record number of students who traveled to IUPUI and Indianapolis from around the world to learn, live and work – nearly 2,000 foreign-born scholars.  Whether they return to their homelands (hopefully as converted Indy ambassadors), or choose to find a new home here, this is a positive trend.

IUPUI’s emergence as an international campus is not only good for the university, but also contributes to a more competitive region.  Indy is a global economy; continued success in foreign markets is essential to long-term growth.

A few statistics for context: The Indianapolis metro ranks in the top 25 (out of the 100 largest U.S. regions) for exports and foreign direct investment (overseas firms opening a new operation in Indianapolis or joining with a company here through purchase or partnership).   More than 100,000 local jobs (with higher-than-average wages) are supported by exports or foreign-owned employers.

Education is about preparing for the future, so it’s not my inclination to focus on the 100,000 jobs that already exist because of global trade and investment, but rather how we create the next 100,000 opportunities that will challenge future classes of IUPUI graduates to tackle the world from Indianapolis.

A global economy creates new markets for high-value, cutting-edge goods and new opportunities for innovation and investment.  Most U.S. exports are produced by ‘advanced industries’ – technology-intensive, dependent on research and development breakthroughs or sophisticated engineering.  Foreign enterprises looking to do business here are also three times more likely (versus the overall economy) to be within these advanced industries.  They are eager to recruit educated, highly skilled workers.

Workforce development and educational attainment are recurring challenges for Indy’s economy that also impact our ambitions for global growth.  To export into an increasingly competitive world, homegrown companies need to be more innovative and productive – it starts with human capital.

For foreign-owned businesses, Indianapolis is already a great location for manufacturing and logistics.  But we have to rely on brainpower to become a global center for advanced industry innovation.  Our aspiration should be making Indy the best place to discover and design products, as well as make and move them.

To expand, diversify and increase the value of our metro exports and foreign investment, the Indy Chamber, IUPUI and other partners from industry, academia and the public sector are part of the Global Cities Exchange initiative, a joint project of The Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase that lends expertise and technical support to regional planning efforts to develop progressive strategies for international economic growth.

We started the process as the fortunate home to a number of large, global corporations (IUPUI’s commencement speaker was John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly & Company, which operates in 120 countries).  But we also have unrealized potential: Brookings has helped identify a thousand or more local mid-market firms that are potentially successful exporters.

Similarly, we’ve learned that while our region outperforms most of our peers in employment within foreign-owned enterprises, half of our job-creating foreign investment happened more than 25 years ago – we must fully capitalize on the latest trends in global business development.

The Indy Chamber will share more of these findings at the annual World Trade Day event on May 24th.   But it’s clear that talent and innovation are common denominators in our formula for success.

As Indiana’s premiere urban research institution, IUPUI is joining with industry partners to support the 16 Tech innovation district and other collaborations that can help position Indianapolis as a crossroads for global innovation.  Meanwhile, we will continue to focus on international partnerships that attract students from across the world to study alongside students from across Central Indiana and beyond.  We remain committed to supporting global trade and investment, as we fulfill the promise of providing a more prosperous community where our graduates can live and work.

Gil Latz is associate vice chancellor for international affairs at IUPUI.

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