August 19, 2017

Is Albuquerque an International City?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

No one would argue that New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are international cities, but would everyone agree that Albuquerque belongs in the same category? What is it that makes a city truly international, and how do we know when we’ve arrived? Cities become international over long periods of time, but all start with close civic cooperation and lots of investment money. They are not always coastal cities with large seaports, nor are they always home to significant numbers of international businesses, but they do have one very important thing in common … an international attitude and an abiding desire to become international. The recipe for a successful international city must include: organizations which promote and implement foreign visitor exchanges, universities with cutting edge international studies programs, a vibrant business community, a diverse population that values its diversity, a modern and growing infrastructure and a progressive city government that thinks internationally.

At first blush, Albuquerque would seem to measure up. It is multi-cultural. It has an international airport (though not yet offering direct international flights), and is home to universities offering international studies and organizations that promote the city to foreign markets. New Mexico exports over $2.5 billion with a significant share originating from Greater Albuquerque. Foreign investment in ABQ is growing steadily, too, and is respectably high for a community its size.

Do we see ourselves as `international’?

Do we view ourselves as international? Many do, but many don’t. I think that those who don’t are not seeing the forest for the trees. They forget our impressive demographics which include our large Hispanic and Native American population. This built-in diverse population offers a unique cultural foundation, and while it may not constitute a ‘foreign population base’ in the eyes of New Mexicans, it’s a plus to foreigners. In a sense, Albuquerque is ‘domestically foreign,’ and offers a distinct advantage over other U.S. cities our size. (Foreign investment goes where it can feel comfortable, and it can feel comfortable in a multi-cultural community like ours). We also have a very large subculture of foreign-born residents. It is estimated that nearly 9.0% of Albuquerquens are foreign-born. This compares with 12.9% nationwide, but it is still a significantly large number of people (approx. 70,000 if you look at recent growth rates for the city). The number of fraternal organizations and clubs that cater to ‘hyphenated Americans’ is also rising as more and more immigrants move to Albuquerque. We must also engage these groups in helping us build an international Albuquerque.

What else is necessary?

What next steps need to be taken to make Albuquerque a truly international city? We should continue to support our existing institutions, but we must also encourage them to increase their cooperation and coordination with one another. We are fortunate to have the City’s Economic Development Department and the AED who are doing an excellent job beating Albuquerque’s drum for foreign investment; the Chambers of Industry and Commerce are making trade matches; and the ABQ Tourism Office is bringing thousands more foreign tourists to our city. While all are posting impressive gains, I believe that we ought to consider creating a joint private/public sector International Office to help maximize the work done by all the NGOs, businesses and other organizations that routinely bring in foreign visitors.

Before we start laying any bricks, though, we need to stimulate a community-wide dialogue to produce a consensus-driven, professional plan for the future. If we engage Albuquerqueans in a debate on their city’s international future, we will be able to craft a realistic and manageable plan for achieving our goals.

Citizen Ambassadors

To make that leap of faith we will need to spread the word about how foreign investment and foreign involvement benefits and affects us all. We must recruit a corps of ‘citizen ambassadors’ who are willing to open their homes to foreign visitors. Becoming a host or hostess to foreigners and advocating for our city is a very personally rewarding experience, but more people need to be involved. Fortunately, we already have several groups who are working independently and energetically to that end: Friendship Force, Sister Cities and the Albuquerque Council for International Visitors which works closely with the U.S. Department of State to bring in emerging foreign leaders. By working more closely together, we could help attract even more foreign visitors to the Duke City.

Our own World Trade Center?

World Trade Centers are magnets for business, and they help establish the bona fides of an international city. We should strongly consider building an Albuquerque World Trade Center to house a permanent exhibition center – a showcase – for foreign and domestically-made products and one that provides low-cost office space for new foreign start-up businesses. (The WTC would also be home to the International Office I mentioned earlier.) We should staff it with government agencies and other professionals whose principal goal would be to insure its success. Finally, we must begin to see ourselves as part of a grand regional metroplex with other southwestern cities like Denver which already has a highly developed international focus. By partnering with other nearby cities to develop events and conferences, we will attract more foreign visitors to our region. A city should never grow for the sake of growing, but growing more international has a far-reaching benefit to all of us. It gives us a passport to extend our reach beyond our borders without leaving home. It deepens our understanding of other cultures, and helps us not only tolerate differences but learn to embrace them. We are already well on our way, but as with every journey, we need to measure our progress against some identifiable mile markers so that we will know how far we need to go by seeing how far we have come.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat who has worked in over 24 foreign countries. He is Honorary Consul for German and CEO of his own Albuquerque-based high-tech consultancy company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.

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