Archive for September, 2009

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renewable German energy

Wednesday 30 September, 2009

The Germans were at it again: the GACCoM’s Annual Renewables & Energy Efficiency Roadshow took place almost all the way out in Rosemont.  Everything you need/want to know can be found here.  There’s very little left for me to do, as long as they leave these files up.  They have posted the presentations as well as the audio/video of the event, so I could post my notes, but you can see all of the original content there.

Alternatively, I’ll provide a little history of the Germans & renewable energy.  I attended an event entitled International Perspectives on Sustainability: The Western European Example in May, 2006 hosted by Chicago Green Drinks (& no, this organization doesn’t have anything to do with the Irish in Chicago).  There it was explained to me that the German government took a leadership position by creating a level playing field for new entrants into the electricity markets so that the incumbent vested interests/utility companies  couldn’t buy/crowd/squash innovative firms out of the marketplace.  Thus alternative energies such as solar, wind, & geothermal received a much-needed boost without having to worry about huge utility companies breathing down their necks.  Consequently, since then, the companies that formed at that time have grown to produce up to 20% of Germany’s electricity, a figure which most nations can only envy.  According to the Green Drinkers at the time, there was no other nation on Earth which can touch Germany’s progress & scale in renewable energies.

Since then, I’ve learned the Germans are leaders in energy efficiency as well, for example by building passive solar houses that require little/no electricity from external sources & in some cases actually returning electricity to the grid.  By using super-insulation & triple-pane  instead of even double-pane glass windows, they create well-enclosed environments that leak little/no heat/energy, etc.  We would do well to learn from the Germans.  They’re farther along the learning curve than we are & we can benefit from their knowledge & experience in these areas.

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Korea-US Business Partnership Forum

Tuesday 29 September, 2009

I checked out this event KORUS (Korea-U.S.) Business Partnership Forum & KOREA EXPO 2009 at Navy Pier organized by Kotra, the Korean Office of Trade & Investment, Invest Korea, & the Korean Ministry of Knowledge & Economy.  Here’s what I learned:

from Jongtae Chung, Trade Commissioner, Kotra-Chicago:

  • Korea’s 2009 growth is 2.3-2.5% & unemployment of 3.8%, despite the recessionary economy & exports shrinking 22.3%
  • The US (11%) is Korea’s 2nd largest export destination after China (21.7%), & 3rd biggest source of imports (9.45%) after China, (16.53%) & Japan (14.29%).
  • Due to a smaller decline in exports compared to other countries, Korea’s trade ranking has improved from #12 to #9 during the crisis.
  • Korea is managing the crisis well by stockpiling foreign reserves, maintaining low debt ratios & fiscal surpluses.
  • Korea’s credit ratings have increased from B to A, & GNI per capita has tripled from $7300 to $20,000 from 1997 to 2007.
  • Korea ranks #13 in terms of global competitiveness & #9 in terms of innovation according the the WEF.
  • In terms of information technologies, Korea ranks #3 in broadband subscribers, #6 in investment in telecommunications as % of GDP, & #14 in technological infrastructure, all according to IMD.

from Prof. Sungjoon Cho of Chicago Kent College of Law:

  • Korea is the 2nd largest export destination in Asia for US services.
  • Korea leads the world in household broadband penetration (95%).
  • Korea’s labor productivity lags the US in many services (US=100; Korean wholesale/retail=22.1, business support=42.3, transportation=46.7, finance=63.6, telecom=73.7), which creates opportunity for Americans.

from Civa Yam, of the US-China Chamber of Commerce:

  • US companies can leverage Korean companies successes in China
  • Korean & US companies are complementary in approaching China

Representatives from 3M & Parker-Hannifin described their successes in Korea while speakers from Korean companies Hyundai, YS-Thermatech, & Unison talked about their successes in Korea, the US, & the world.  The Korean Products show was very well-organized-each industry pavilion was color-coded so attendees knew what product groups they were seeing. They assured me they would send over the presentations, but haven’t yet.

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A German Jew reconnects & recollects

Wednesday 23 September, 2009

I sat in on this lecture My Germany: A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escaped by Lev Raphael @ the Goethe Institute.  Contemporary relations between Germans & Jews was a frequent topic of conversation when I lived/worked in Germany, & this is the 1st time I’ve seen an event with this focus, so I was quite interested.

Lev freely admits his book is a memoir, travelogue, & mystery.  He grew up in a German-speaking neighborhood of New York thinking Germany was the source of all evil, & given his family’s past, that’s understandable.  He fantasized about what would happen if he crashed on a plane in Germany, (the only way he’d ever land there).

Then his mother died & he sought to answer a lot of unresolved questions.  He made a wonderful trip to Magdeburg, when the Germans gave him access to everything he requested.  Soon his books on Judaism were translated into German.  As Lev unabashedly followed-up, if you’d like to know how the story turns out, you’ll have to read the book.

Q&A-Lev defines all European jews as survivors.

Everyone treated him & most authors like royalty in Germany.

Lev credits the Germans for owning up to their past  while observing that the Japanese still haven’t taken responsibility for their atrocities during World
War II & noting that, of course, ALL the French were members of the resistance (wink wink).

During his recent visits to Germany, he felt anti-Americanism, but little antisemitism.

My take-this was an interesting & thought-provoking event, fraught with danger of saying the wrong thing.  He brings up a still very touchy subject for which there are no easy answers.  I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t answer all questions directly & not even insinuate, rather demand, that we buy the book, but Raphael’s willingness to tackle a tough topic is admirable.

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what’s new from IL Dir of Trade & Investment

Monday 21 September, 2009

I attended this event WHAT IS THE STATE OFFICE OF TRADE AND INVESTMENT DOING TO ENCOURAGE AND HELP ILLINOIS BUSINESSES SUCCESSFULLY COMPETE IN TODAY’S INTERNATIONAL MARKETPLACE? hosted by Business Network Chicago.  Mary Roberts was recently named interim director of the Office of Trade & Investment office of the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity.  She has certainly been making the rounds, as we have crossed paths on a number of occasions lately.

Here’s her presentation ILIntlPresentation & here’s what she had to say:

  • The state of IL has 10 foreign trade offices, the services of which are all available to IL firms for free  There are 6 International Trade Centers to work with businesses in the state.
  • Why should foreign firms open offices in IL?
  • The cost/ft2 for office space is comparatively cheap when compared to the world’s big cities.  Taxes are relatively cheap too, & incentives are available.
  • IL exported $54B in 2008 & was the 6th rank state for exports.  Exports comprise 8.4% of GDP of the state & are responsible for 540K jobs.
  • 1523 foreign companies work out of 5312 locations & employ 275K in Illinois.
  • Chicago is still a logistics hub.  It’s the only place on the continent where all 6 major railroads intersect.  IL has 1118 miles of waterways.  It’s the #1 container hub.
  • In addition Mary shared what she’s learned about international business in her time on the job, i.e., in the U.S., the contract is the focal point of a business relationship.  In the rest of the world, it’s just the last step/consummation  in the process.
  • Gov. Pat Quinn’s goal is to become the #1 green state.

Q&A:

  • to take advantage of international opportunities, give Mary your card & she’ll put your contact information in her database.
  • the state of IL collaborates with the US Dept of Commerce & foreign consulates, depending on the resources available by each.

My take-Illinois does well, but there are other states which have been much more consistent with their international representation.  Gov. Jim Thompson had 12 international offices.  Jim Edgar cut them down to less than a handful.  George Ryan started beefing them up.  Rod Blagojovich continued the trend, & Pat Quinn seems to want to continue it.  But if I’m an Illinois or foreign business person considering working with state of Illinois representatives, I’m not sure how long they’re going to be around.  That’s a big no-no.  Commitment is a big part of the equation.

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trade with/invest in Uganda

Friday 18 September, 2009

I attended this function US-Uganda Trade and Investment Forum which was sponsored by the Uganda consulate in Chicago, Uganda embassy in Washington, D.C., & Uganda Investment Authority.

1 of the best presentations given of the day was given by the African Alliance.  Here it is:  AFRICAN ALLIANCE BUSINESS FORM PRESENTATION.  I requested the other presentations from the organizers, but haven’t received them yet.  There were also presentations made by Ugandan companies working in the US, such as Akright Projects Ltd./real estate developers, Luba International Relations/Language Consultants, & Uganda Coffee Development Authority, & American companies doing/seeking business in Uganda, like Elfi Wall Systems, & Renew Strategies.

The Director of the Bank of Uganda, Uganda’s central bank, said Uganda’s long-term macroeconomic record is good with 6-7% annual growth, a sovereign rating of B, & S&P rating of B+.  Inflation dropped from14% to 10% last year & is now less than 5%.  7 commercial banks have opened in the last year to bring the total of 21.  Their team of 6 was seeking portfolio investment.  Equity & fixed income investments in Uganda can offer returns of 14 1/2%, which are simply not available here.  Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament indicated their priority is to protect their environment.

The Executive Director of the Uganda Investment Authority noted that Uganda’s economy is #4 in Africa & received $700+M in foreign direct investment 2005-9.  The US is #8 in FDI in terms of $, & #7 in number of projects.  Citibank & Unilever are success stories.  Uganda has a population of 30M that is eager for US products.  Priority sectors are manufacturing, organic agriculture, transportation, energy, mines, petroleum, information technologies, services, & tourism.  IT includes business process outsourcing, software development, testing, SANS, & hardware assembly.  There are 20 ISP’s & 7 mobile providers.  Constraints are infrastructure, access to finance, & government administration/bureaucracy.

This was somewhat of a high-falutin’ affair.  The ambassador to Uganda was supposed to be there, as well as ministers of State for Investments, Information, & Tourism, who I think did make it.  Representatives from the city of Chicago & State of Illinois attended, & the IL Trade & Investment dept. made a presentation as well.  For me this was a very interesting contrast-on the same day I attended a German function.  That was tight, organized, & punctual.  This event was a lot more loose, open, & free-flowing.  It was an interesting day.

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Alderman for & local organizer against the Olympics

Wednesday 16 September, 2009

I attended another Chicago Olympics event, Chicago 2016: The Thrill of Victory or the Agony of Defeat? this time @ the Chicago Historical Museum.  It featured Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, in whose ward much of the development for the Olympics would fall, & Jay Travis, the executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), which represents neighborhoods where much Olympic construction would happen as well.  The handouts included the documents created by The Civic Federation which reviewed the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, which can be found here & the summary here.

Here’s what was said that’s not contained in those documents:

  • the US federal government makes no investments before an Olympic city is named, only afterwards
  • an MOU is not legally binding, but an ordinance is the law
  • Jay is still concerned about displacement, rising prices, long-term employment, & eminent domain issues
  • 1/4-ly reports to the city council will provide transparency
  • the bottom line is the alderman believes that with the financial guarantees & insurance, the finances for the Chicago 2016 Olympics are secure.
  • Q&A resulted in typical Chicago town-hall fashion being reduced to incendiary accusations of the alderman’s husband benefiting from real-estate deals coming out of the Olympics.

What surprises me is that the community organizers fail to recognize the long-term economic benefits gained by hosting the Summer Olympics.  There are risks, & they are correct to have them addressed, but if Chicago can get the Olympics, I don’t think there’s any question it will be good for the city.

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baseball in japan & around the world

Monday 14 September, 2009

I popped into this breakfast talk Baseball in Japan and the U.S. Persevering Through Difficult Times featuring Trey Hillman, the manager of the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team.  He was invited to speak by the Japan America Society of Chicago because he took a losing team to the playoffs 3 times & won the Japan Series while managing 5 years in Japan.

The focus was much more on persevering through difficult times than on baseball in Japan & the world.  Apparently he & his family have had a rough go of it lately, so he can relate.  His main message was that we all overestimate the the importance of our own problems & it’s better to be an energy-giver rather than an energy- sucker.  We listen to the wrong people & need to seek wise counsel.  He tracks these links:  presence->positive energy->ego->thoughts->words->action->habits->character->destiny  He’s a pretty religious guy, so he gave out a sheet with some inspirational sayings from the Bible.

His story:  he found he was a good ego manager @ the age of 24, so he moved from the field to the dugout when he realized the latter held more potential than the former.  To illustrate Japan’s passion for sports, Trey noted they have 7 sports daily newspapers, & athletes there have a tremendous work ethic.

Q&A

Japan has better ego management because 99% of Japanese players accede to the team.

To prepare to live & work in Japan, he simply did research on the internet, called fellow manager Bobby Valentine who coached in Japan as well, & took a visitor’s attitude of respecting his hosts.

My take:  I can see that Trey is a pretty inspirational guy, but I do wonder how much he’s able to relive his times in Japan in Kansas City.  I was disappointed he spoke so little about his time in Japan in favor of focusing on quoting the Bible, but I guess that’s just me.