PHILADELPHIA – Understanding cultural beliefs is essential if companies want to achieve economic success globally.
The role culture and religion play in driving foreign direct investment and engaging a diverse workforce was highlighted at The World Forum for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) conference in Philadelphia. It was the first time the three-day conference, which was sponsored by Team Pennsylvania Foundation and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), was held in North America.
The conference brings together executives from global corporations, ministries of trade, site location consultants, trade and investment agencies, sovereign wealth funds and economic development officials from around the world.
Panelist Bruce Heugel, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, B. Braun, said his company is purposefully vested at the local level. B. Braun, with facilities in numerous countries around the world, is a Team PA investor and Heugel serves on the Foundation’s Board of Directors.
“You make more money when you have a local identity,” Heugel said. “You are more productive and, quite frankly, it is more fun when you have cultural diversity and you embrace the needs and beliefs of your employees at the local level.”
Dr. Reza Aslan, panel moderator and author of the best seller, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth said that while nationalism is on the decline, cultural values, religious beliefs and ethnic pride are on the rise.
That means companies need to have cultural understanding and be sensitive to the divergent beliefs of the people with whom they do business and employ. Views vary widely from the role of gender in the workplace to how technology is used to the issue of usury, which nearly every religion views as an immoral practice, Aslan said.
“Economic perception and religious identity have been intertwined since the beginning of time,” Aslan said. “Cultural and religious literacy are important to understanding what defines various societies that we are living in and working with economically. It is very difficult in the 21st century to be economically successful without having an understanding of religious identity and cultural ethnicity.”
When asked how companies should integrate new cultures following an acquisition, both Heugel and Robert Mankowski, Vice President, Product Management, Bentley Systems, said building trust is vital.
“When you bring people into your organization, not only do you want to establish trust but you want to show them opportunities for personal growth,” Mankowski said.
The conference, whose attendees hail from 40 countries, covered an array of topics designed to increase FDI opportunities.
Other topics discussed included cyber security, turning brownfields into productive properties, the impact of re-shoring on FDI and how innovation is a driver of FDI. In addition to the conference, Team PA partnered with the commonwealth to host a networking dinner for delegates, speakers and sponsors.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was selected to host the event because the state is home to nearly 6,000 foreign-owned businesses employing over 250,000 workers and was one of only three states that had positive FDI growth from 2012 to 2013, according to a DCED press release.
2014 is projected to be another strong growth year for Pennsylvania with several foreign companies already announcing investments, including three that are a direct result of business development missions to France and Germany (2012) and Brazil and Chile (2013). The missions were funded at no cost to taxpayers by Team PA.
In April, French food processing company Charles & Alice announced it will establish its first processing site in the United States in Lancaster County. The company will invest more than $10.6 million and has also committed to creating at least 50 new jobs. Charles & Alice will work with Lancaster-based distributor, Hess Brother’s Fruit Company as their apple supplier for their products.
Torcomp USA, LLC, a machinery manufacturer, also announced in April that it will establish its first U.S. facility in Franklin County, a move that will create 73 new jobs in the region.
In February, Fibria Celulose S.A. (Fibria), the world’s largest producer of Bleached Eucalyptus Kraft Pulp (BEKP), announced it will move its current shipping operations from the Port of Baltimore to the Tioga Marine Terminal at the Port of Philadelphia. The move will result in an additional 12 to 18 vessels and approximately 300,000 metric tons of BEKP annually to the port to be distributed to the northeast of the country, taking advantage of a comprehensive distribution network by rail and road.
Pennsylvania’s extensive international footprint made it a logical choice for the conference, according to Cathy Dawson, president of Red Hot Locations, the company that runs the event.
“For the past 11 years we have held the Forum in Europe and in Asia, continents with countries, cities and regions which have competed for FDI for over 30 years,” said Dawson. “By hosting the World Forum, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are reinforcing their position on the global FDI map, not just on the national map.”