Russia ‘Open’ for business

A team of Russian business leaders is visiting Clark County this week as part of the annual Open World program

Since suffering a financial crisis in 1998, Russia’s economy has grown an average of 6.5 percent each year. In order to enjoy a competitive advantage in an increasingly global economy, Russia’s economic development of today will greatly impact its prospects for the future. And Clark County is participating in demonstrating how positive economic growth can be achieved.

The Rotary Club of Lewis River has hosted a group of Russian citizens each year since the inception of the Open World program was created by the U.S. Congress in 1999. The program enables emerging Russian and other former Soviet country leaders to experience U.S. democracy and free enterprise in action in communities across America.

The theme for this year’s visiting delegation is economic development.

"We are going to give them some tools, perspectives and different ways to deal with challenges and problems they face in Russia," said Buck Heidrick, local Rotary member and assistant coordinator for the program.

This year’s group includes five Russian business men ranging in age from 25 to 38. They will visit the county for 10 days and meet with government and business leaders throughout the area.

Port of Vancouver Executive Director Larry Paulson said the port has welcomed past Open World groups, and he will speak with the visiting Russian group next week. He said the Russian teams are fascinated by the port’s infrastructure, use of land, its taxing district, planning for the future and how the port operates in cooperation with government entities.

Aside from the economic benefits the visit can provide to both sides, it is creating relationships and political ties in today’s world economy that is important, said Paulson.

"Anytime we can encourage a market-driven approach to trade and the international linkage trade brings, it is beneficial," he said.

Heidrick outlined several initiatives framing the delegations trip. The goal, he said, is for the group to leave with:

•A thorough understanding of how success in economic development takes the cooperation and support of a broad group of players, including government, the private sector, non-profit leadership and education.

•An understanding of critical elements necessary for economic development, including the business climate, transportation, workforce development, cost of living, public and private infrastructure, banking and finance, real estate and development, networking and communications, market access and legislation and governance.

•Some tools in their tool box such as examples of successes and best practices, how to go about creating economic development groups and initiatives and generating critical contacts for possible future leverage.

•An understanding of the global nature of economic development — "it’s a flat world."

•A knowledge of some issues and pitfalls that have been encountered and suggestions on how to avoid them.

The trip is not only aimed at developing best practices for business. Heidrick said everyone involved has the opportunity to discover the similarities and differences of the two cultures.

"It’s a good thing for the world," said Heidrick. "The program advances peace through friendship and understanding. It’s a good thing for the future."

And when it comes to business, some benefits of the program can be seen. Russia is actually doing some things better than the U.S., said Heidrick, as they have learned from our mistakes.

The Russian team arrived today at Portland International Airport. They plan to spend their weekend visiting sites around the Columbia River, Portland and several Oregon wineries and Pearson Air Field where Russian aviators landed after the first transpolar flight in 1937.

During the week, the group will explore economic development issues with the many groups and individuals in the community who have volunteered to host them, including the Columbia River Economic Development Council, the Port of Vancouver, First Independent Bank in downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, the Vancouver Business Journal, officials from Clark County and Vancouver, Pomeroy Farms north of Battle Ground and Norpak Co. in Longview.

The team is scheduled to depart on Oct. 1.