Global Cities Exchange
• Fresno and the central San Joaquin Valley are chosen to join the Brookings Global Cities Initiative Exchange.
• The Exchange consists of 28 U.S. metro areas, each of which will develop focused plans and share their strategies for increasing export opportunities for local industries as well as attracting foreign investment.
• Local leaders describe it as an opportunity for other industries to build upon the success of Valley agriculture in developing overseas markets for their goods and services.
The Fresno region is among seven U.S. metropolitan areas joining a $10 million project to help cities improve exports of their products on a global basis as well as develop opportunities for foreign investment in local industries.
Local leaders gathered Thursday at the Fresno Chamber of Commerce to announce the area’s acceptance into the Brookings Global Cities Initiative Exchange, a four-year program launched in 2012 by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution with backing from JPMorgan Chase. Other communities accepted into the GCI Exchange are Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Seattle and the Missouri cities of St. Louis and Kansas City.
Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said he believed Fresno’s application for the program won out over others in the competitive selection process because it represents a regional approach that covers the entire central San Joaquin Valley, including neighboring Madera, Kings, Tulare and Merced counties as well as Kern County to the south. “Even though Fresno took the lead in the application, this is a regional effort,” Borgeas said.
According to Brookings, GCI Exchange is aimed at helping metro-area leaders “strengthen their regional economies by becoming more competitive in the global marketplace.” The goal is to create a nationwide network of communities that can exchange ideas and best practices as they develop strategies for increasing exports and foreign direct investment.
“Once in implementation, these strategies will be enhanced through research and exchanges on related global engagement topics, such as freight flows, innovation and workforce skills development,” Brookings reported.
The Valley’s agriculture industry — long a backbone of the region’s economy — has been exporting its commodities to overseas markets for decades. What the Brookings program will do is “build upon our agricultural base” to improve export opportunities for other industry sectors, said Erik Langeland, JPMorgan Chase Bank’s market manager for the Central Valley.
Glen Roberts, who heads the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Export Assistance Center in Fresno, concurred. “There’s more to it than just agriculture,” he said. An upcoming trade mission by Valley representatives to China, Roberts said, is aimed at not only promoting exports and exploring market opportunities for farm products, but also manufactured goods, including food processing equipment and other products.
A growing number of small and mid-sized manufacturers in the Valley are clamoring for help in finding export markets, Roberts added. And even in agriculture, he said, a growing number of younger farmers are looking for ways to market their crops directly to customers overseas rather than selling through brokers.
A 2013 Brookings report indicated that Fresno County exported about $4.5 billion worth of goods and services to other countries in 2012. The biggest partof that, almost $1.1 billion, was agricultural commodities. That doesn’t count another $226 million in meat and poultry products that were also exported from Fresno County in 2012. Exports represented about 11.1% of Fresno County’s economic output in 2012, up from 6.9% in 2003.
Fresno and the other cities recently selected represent the final cities joining the roster of 28 U.S. metropolitan areas in GCI Exchange.
“For the Exchange, we selected metro areas that are committed to expanding their global economic reach by working together to identify regional competitive strengths and increase exports,” Brookings director of global special projects Brad McDearman said in a written statement. “The eight metro areas selected for this final round represent a growing group of U.S. metro areas that understand the need to embrace the global market to remain competitive in the 21st century economy.”
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said GCI Exchange presents an opportunity for the region to “diversify with production agriculture in mind” to boost other industries that create higher-wage jobs. “We can seize the moment and create a very deliberate strategy” to help businesses learn to export, she said.
While much of Thursday’s announcement focused on exports, a second component of GCI Exchange is attracting overseas investment in local businesses. “This isn’t about China or anyone coming in and buying up America,” said Lee Ann Eager, CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation. “It’s about partnering with the businesses we have here … and how both (investor and business) can benefit.”
Joining the city, Fresno County and Economic Development Corporation in the Exchange partnership are representatives from Fresno State, Central California Valley Economic Development Corporation, Fresno Chamber of Commerce, San Joaquin Valley Regional Association of California Counties and the U.S. Department of Commerce.