Northwest Indiana World Trade Council getting the band back together

2014-01-13T15:44:00Z 2014-01-13T17:33:07Z Northwest Indiana World Trade Council getting the band back togetherJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

GARY | The Northwest Indiana World Trade Council promoted international commerce in Northwest Indiana for more than two decades, before it disbanded about five years ago.

Now the group is undergoing a revival.

Indiana University Northwest School of Business and Economics Dean Anna Rominger, IUN professor Surekha Rao, Portage accountant Sandy Becker and writer and corporate event consultant Dennis Hodges are leading an effort to bring the Northwest Indiana World Trade Council back to life.

The council was founded in 1992 to promote greater understanding of Northwest Indiana's role in the global economy, Becker said. The council sought to increase international trade by marketing the region and helping businesses reach overseas markets.

Over time, the group's mission became less clear and there was division over whether it should have a business focus on promoting trade or a social focus on creating networking opportunities, said Keith Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of the South Shore Leadership Center. Another major issue was that its membership included NIPSCO, Valparaiso University, the city of Hammond and other entities that support local businesses, but few companies that actually participated in international commerce.

Eventually, the group faded because of disinterest. Efforts have been made to revive it over the last five years, and they came to a head at an organization meeting at Indiana University Northwest Monday.

Former members said there is still a need for the council, especially since the world has become increasingly globalized. At least 150 Northwest Indiana companies are importers, exporters or foreign-owned, Rao said.

"In the last 10 years, exports from the Region have grown three times," she said.

Local businesses that aspire to tap foreign markets could use help finding trade partners, or learning what resources are available, Hodges said. Northwest Indiana World Trade Council members, for instance, discussed the possibility of partnering with Elevate Ventures, a statewide initiative that provide capital funding for growing businesses.

They also talked about luring a big-name speaker – such as a prominent business person or government official – who could draw people to an international summit sometime in the next year. The idea would be to bring local businesses together to discuss how the trade council could best meet their needs.

"We've not done anything as a Region internationally for a long time," said Kirkpatrick.

Members hope to reach out to local businesses, including the foreign-owned giants ArcelorMittal and BP, to see if they would be interested in participating in the council, and what services would be most in demand.

Anyone who is interested in the council can contact Hodges at (219) 793-3370 or the.writer@comcast.net.

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