Roy Dahlquist understands the importance of 关系.
That's the Chinese word for relationship (guānxi in Pinyin), and it's what makes the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) so successful.
Dahlquist, VEDP's Managing Director for Asia, has decades of real-world business experience that he uses to assist international businesses seeking to locate in Virginia.Like all VEDP international investment managers, he has specific knowledge, connections and experience to help companies find a profitable home in Virginia.
"It's trust and confidence.We have to know what we're talking about from two perspectives, the business and the culture," he said.
"And they trust the information we're providing."
Albert Maiolino, Managing Director for the Americas/India/Australia agrees."There is a lot of responsibility behind this.It's never something that can be taken lightly." Maiolino has lived in Europe and South America, speaks several languages and worked for more than two decades in the automotive, manufacturing and semiconductor sectors.
"We have to gain that trust and responsibility.We are responsible for a company's success here."
So how do you create trust with executives of an overseas-based company?The VEDP's team has the real-world experience to know what companies need, sometimes before they realize it themselves.
Showing a company how it can add value with a location in Virginia is key."I can say, 'I know your business and this is how your business will do well in Virginia," said Dahlquist, who spent more than three decades in international business with a Fortune 500 company, including a 12-year stint in China where he learned the culture and a bit of the language.
The VEDP helps companies select locations, find employees and deal with regulatory issues and finances.
And unlike doing business within the United States where friendships might come later, the relationship with international companies is cemented before the sale.
"Whenever I meet anybody, in business or outside business, I try to make some kind of connection," said John Elink-Schuurman,Managing Director for Europe.Fluent in several languages,he worked in international business for 21 years before joining the VEDP team.
"It might be a place I've traveled, a book I've read, a restaurant where I've eaten.I've learned that the quicker you can establish even a loose connection and find something to talk about, you get the ball rolling on a relationship.
"It sounds obvious, but it works."
Knowing how to listen is a big part of the job."We learn what companies want to achieve and how they want to achieve it," said Maiolino. The VEDP then makes recommendations based on what's available from the state and localities to best serve the business model.
"At the end of the day, we make sure their business succeeds," he said. "We really are the go-between for businesses and the future."
The VEDP believes in building those all-important relationships as part of the process to secure new business ventures in the Commonwealth.
"We bring business experience to a business discussion," said Dahlquist. "We bring it to the table in a culturally correct way. You can use the old cliché: it's an art rather than a science."
"We are the concierge," said Elink-Schuurman. "I understand that in some cases there is family relocation that involves real estate brokers, insurance, schools … things that we take for granted. But a family moving to the U.S. from Germany, for example, would have no idea what to do.
"We provide tangible benefits – the incentives, the tax credits, the business drivers – but we also offer those intangible benefits, which adds an extra layer."
"The relationship continues long after the ribbon cutting," said Elink-Schuurman. "It spans the transaction. It comes back to the point where companies come here to enter the U.S. market – but that's not the end of it. They use this as a platform to go to Canada or Mexico duty-free because of NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] or to expand further. The international company is strategic. They come with a five- or 10-year plan. It's a big investment and if it fails, they lose face back home.
"We make sure they succeed."
“We have offices in Belgium, China, Japan, India and England,” said Maiolino. “They do a lot of the ground work and deserve a lot of recognition. A potential company, when they realize that we have somebody there in their country, it makes a marked difference.”
“These representatives of the VEDP in foreign countries have all lived or worked in the United States,” said Dahlquist. “When someone from one of our offices says, ‘I can help you in the United States because I lived there for five years, I speak the language and I understand the culture,’ it counts for a lot. We cross the barrier with knowledge of culture and business and we do it on both sides of the water.”
"Virginia's brand awareness varies by country," said Elink-Schuurman. "Some people are very aware of Virginia, some have no idea. So you have to be flexible in tailoring your marketing message."
Dahlquist concurs. "In many countries, the perception of Virginia is strongly tied to the perception of the United States as a whole. They might transfer to Virginia a perception based on some experience in California. They don't always understand the dynamics of statehood versus the universality of a country."
People know that we're near Washington, D.C.," said Maiolino. "Virginia is not always known as a strong manufacturing center, and at times there's explaining to do. Or maybe they've been to Northern Virginia and think the whole state is just a maelstrom of people."
High-tech firms, however, may know Virginia for its skilled workforce. "Many people don't realize it, but we have the second-highest concentration of IT workers in the United States after California.
"We measure success in a couple of unique ways," said Dahlquist. "We want to have a strong relationship with the Board of Directors of the corporation at the headquarters level. We want to know what they're going to do, and we put together all the pieces of their strategy.
"And here, success is when we're on their speed dial."
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