Success Stories from the 2021-2022 WTCA Champions Award Winners

with Karen Gerwitz, Freerk Faber, EJ Schouwstra, Leigh Smout and Tim Nowak

In today’s episode, WTCA Executive Director-Business Development Robin van Puyenbroeck is joined by the five winners of the 2022 WTCA Champions Awards. Together they discuss what it means to be a winner, what makes each of their World Trade Centers unique, perspectives on global trade, and more.

Highlights from the conversation:

  • What it means to be a winner (1:30)
  • What makes your WTC unique (20:46)
  • Perspectives on global trade (29:19)
  • Anecdotes to share (37:42)


Trade Wins is a podcast designed specifically to be thought-provoking and to provide insights from leading experts to help us navigate today’s changing environment. We aim to contribute to the empowerment of our global membership and their business networks in the world of global trade and investment.



Robin van Puyenbroeck 0:07
Welcome back to Trade Wins. I’m Robin Van Puyenbroeck, your host, and today I have not one but five guests in the show. And this is actually a special episode because the guests of the show are the winners of the WTCA Champion Awards of this year. And with me is Tim Nowak of World Trade Center St. Louis, winner of the Champion Awards for Sustainability. Also Leigh Smout from World Trade Center Toronto in Canada, winner of the Champion Award for Network Support. Evert Jan Schouwstra from World Trade Center Leeuwarden, winner of the Champion Award for Reciprocity Freerk, founder of World Trade Center Twente, winner of the Champion Award for Connectivity. And then last but not least, Karen Gerwitz of World Trade Center Denver who won the Champion Award for Member of the Year. So, welcome to the program!

So Karen, let’s start with you. What does it mean to be the Member of the Year? How does it feel? What does it represent to you to be selected by — and I have to maybe first say this, that in order to receive an award, a Champion Award, this is selected by the leadership of the Membership Advisory Councils consisting of World Trade Centers from all around the world. So this is truly you know, a selection from our membership, the leadership, from around the world. So Karen, I will hand it over to you, tell us, what does it mean to you to be Member of the Year?

Karen Gerwitz 1:36
Robin, and thank you so much for featuring us today. It’s quite an honor. And certainly I was shocked to get this award, but certainly humbled and appreciative of it as well. I do have to say though, it’s a little bit humbling to get it with my name on it, it should just certainly be our team at the World Trade Center Denver, which works really hard. And we’ve been convening and gathering the international business community for 35 years here in the Denver metro region. And so it’s certainly, to think of an award given by your peers from across the world, there’s nothing in my entire career that I can compare that to. It’s an incredible honor, and I’m really grateful to be part of this association that allows me to make friendships from around the world. And I’m really grateful for that. I get a lot out of leaning into this organization and doing work for it. It pays me back time and again, so I’m really honored. And thank you so much for the recognition.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 2:38
Well, of course, Karen, and I think it’s more than well-deserved. I wanted to sort of add, of course, that you play a leading role in our Trade Services Membership Council and were instrumental in producing our Trade Services Operating Manual, which was a draconian piece of work but with ‘s just an amazing outcome, again with input from around the network. Can you tell us a bit more? What is this Trade Service Operating Manual, Karen, and what can it serve?

Karen Gerwitz 3:11
Yes, thank you. So the World Trade Centers Association is not a franchise, we all operate a little bit differently around the world. So the Trade Services Manual was meant to inspire and support all of the World Trade Centers globally, in offering trade services, which is a critical element of our association services. So trade services include things like trade education, trade information, incubator, you know, getting companies to connect with other companies, worldwide. Trade missions, even having business and social clubs are part of trade services. So it’s a broad category, but it really does define our association and differentiates it. Yes, we have a strong real estate presence, but the trade services are really what I like to call the soul inside of the body and the real estate’s the body, the trade services are the soul. Together we make the whole, it’s a differentiator for our association and we are proud to move that forward.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 4:16
I liked that. We should trademark that, Karen, that the trade services feed the soul. I like that very much. Thank you. And we’ll stay in the United States. Heading South to St. Louis, Tim, winning the award for Sustainability? What does it mean?

Tim Nowak 4:33
Robin, thank you. It means so much to us. And truly, we were shocked here in St. Louis, and excited to get the news on winning the award for sustainability and more specifically recognition for the work that we’ve done in launching an initiative that goes back about nine years at this point, hard to believe, but an initiative to increase the foreign-born talent in St. Louis. And this initiative, which was in the very beginning, we called it “Immigration and Innovation,” what a real catchy phrase that is. But it morphed into the St. Louis Mosaic Project. And this is housed within the World Trade Center St. Louis. And it is an initiative with a very simple goal, to attract and retain foreign-born talent all throughout the world to St. Louis. And to receive this recognition from our peers, to receive this recognition from the association, is just incredible validation for the work that we’re doing here to make St. Louis a more global city, to make St. Louis a more international community. One of the things that we firmly believe here is that our foundation is in trade. Our foundation, rightfully so, is in helping to connect businesses here, with opportunities around the globe for their services or their goods. But over time, we’ve also recognized that for St. Louis truly to be that international, global city that we all aspire to be. There are three key equal ingredients to that. It is trade, but it’s also people and investment. And they’re all very highly connected. And so when we received a grant back nine years ago to do St. Louis’s first-ever Economic Impact of Immigration in St. Louis, we hired an economist out of St. Louis University who did that landmark study for us. For us it captivated this community, the community has rallied behind the St. Louis Mosaic Project. And it’s grown and it’s had a greater impact, honestly more so than I could have ever even predicted or imagined. And so to receive this award, we’re truly grateful and make no mistake, it has inspired this team, even more. We have incredible leaders behind the Mosaic Project, it’s inspired us, we’ve gotten out, we’ve talked to local media about this. And so it’s been a win for us here. But it’s also a win for this community. So thank you, Robin, and thank you to the entire association.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 7:10
I would say the results of the Mosaic Project couldn’t be more timely. I was reading up on the project and if you look now around the world, but specifically in the United States, how hard it is to recruit and also retain talent. So this is, I think, truly a remarkable exercise. And it’s not just about integrating immigrants that are already in the St. Louis area. It’s also attracting talent from elsewhere to come to St. Louis. Could you give us just briefly a quick sort of an idea of how this program concretely works? Like? How do you present St. Louis? Well, what’s the proposition for, let’s say, someone is elsewhere in the United States and how you reach people and can convince them to come to St. Louis?

Tim Nowak 7:53
Yeah, good question. So just to go back, you’re exactly right, one of your earlier points, it’s more important than ever, what we’ve seen is that our population here in St. Louis was not growing organically for us to grow. And it truly is tied into economic development, make no mistake, this is an initiative that is contributing to the economic growth of St. Louis. And we need it now more than ever, as we’re coming out of the pandemic. And past federal immigration policies we’ve seen, we saw for the last several years a slowing of important foreign students contributing to our economy, important refugee placements, that that we’ve relied on for a number of years and that have helped to grow. Many communities are Bosnian or Vietnamese communities, those slowed for some time. And so for us, it is about numbers. Yes, we need population growth here domestically. But we also need to be a net attractor of foreign born talent. And for us to do that, it really came down to being a welcoming community, to supporting the foreign-born communities that we have here. Well, when we started, you know, it wasn’t as if we had the large resources to go out and promote St. Louis, all throughout the world. That wasn’t the case. But what we decided is that there are very concrete things that we can do to be more welcoming, and to be more connected to the foreign-born community who had already chosen St. Louis as a place to live and to work and to raise a family. And if we do those things, right, if we’re connecting with those communities, if we’re integrating them into the business community here in the places where they can have a seat at the table, if you will, at decision making positions, that inward migration that other communities around the United States could see that their cousins, their friends, their relatives, were having success here in St. Louis, and that maybe they would want to learn a little bit more about St. Louis and choose this as a home. So there are a number of programs that we have here from our international spouse program where foreign executives who have a position or have been placed here we connect with their spouses, we find a way to bridge this with the foreign investors, the companies that have chosen to be here, and to help their management team, their staff that they come that comes in here, call it after, you know, and doing what we can to support the 300 plus foreign-owned businesses that are invested here in St. Louis. So there are a number of initiatives that we have to really integrate and connect immigrants when they make their way here to St. Louis, to find this as a welcoming and supportive home and that they want to stay here and make St. Louis their long-term home.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 10:31
Their long-term home. It all comes down to connections, right, and building connections, which takes me all the way to the Netherlands to Freerk in Twente who won the award for Connectivity. Congratulations, Freerk. What does this award represent to you and the community in Twente?

Freerk Faber 10:50
Yeah, thank you, Robin. And also thank you to the leadership of the World Trade Centers Association to receive this prize, this award. And also congratulations to the other winners. They are also very inspiring. I just heard Tim talking about the Mosaic Project and also the International Spouses Program. Karen, of course. I was at the European meeting. And so there were more candidates, and then suddenly, you hear your name, and you can’t believe it. I understood that Evert Jan made a film of it. So you can see that and it’s all recognition, not just for the work we do but also for the team of the World Trade Center Twente. And we are a small team but we do a lot of things. And the World Trade Center is about people that know people. And that is the basis of our success. And we’re very pleased to receive the Champion Award for Connectivity.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 11:40
Yeah, and you won the award for it for initiating a wide range of joint projects between World Trade Center businesses and also you’re always working hard to do whatever you can to improve the network and those connections. So would you want to maybe give us an example of one of the joint projects that you initiated that you worked on between different World Trade Center businesses?

Freerk Faber 12:04
Yeah, well, I can mention several – our work together with Karen but also with World Trade Center Atlanta to be present with companies like the World Trade Day. It’s a good event that we can build out more good connections with the French World Trade Centers, for example, when we supported a French company on the Dutch market, and also the German market, because we are nearby here together with World Trade Centers Brest and Rennes. And I just had an intern that came via World Trade Center Rennes who has been an intern for two months in the World Trade Center. And that’s the way we work with each other – we support each other and then not to mention the support we get from World Trade Centers, or when we do trade missions. In France, for example, we did a matchmaking on a trade fair, where I organized a Dutch booth together with World Trade Center Rennes, and then you bring in contact with the companies through the World Trade Center network, and then you help them grow and grow internationally. And it’s important to know that these companies see the strength of the network, and the connections we can make.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 13:16
Yeah, and Freerk, it might be an impossible question to ask, but how many World Trade Centers do you speak with annually?

Freerk Faber 13:24
I make a tour around the globe every week. So this week, three or four different World Trade Centers where you can count them. I don’t speak to all 315 every day. I’m mostly focused on World Trade Centers that are active in trade and trade services because that is our core business, and so around 100, I will say in the year. So one-third of it.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 13:51
That’s impressive. So no wonder you were awarded with the Connectivity award, Freerk. Congratulations.

We’ll stay in the Netherlands, go a little up north to Leeuwarden, and with EJ (Evert Jan), winning an award for Reciprocity. What does that represent for you?

EJ Schouwstra 14:09
Oh, thank you, first of all, and also the World Trade Centers Associations also, all those people that voted for us, it means a lot. It means a lot for our team. We have a small team, but we try to do quite a lot of things. And with the help of the World Trade Center network, we are also, it seems, that we’re also succeeding at it. But it is a very important award for us that we are proud to receive the award last year for Sustainability. And this year for Reciprocity. So it’s a wonderful recognition for my team.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 14:46
Yeah, absolutely. And so you’re also serving on the Europe, Middle East Africa Trade Services RAC of course, you’re chairing that committee and I know you have a program, which I like the title of, I like the program as well, of course, but I think it’s a very clever title. It’s “Promising Cities for International Business.” It’s a webinar series. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

EJ Schouwstra 15:10
Yeah, it’s a wonderful series of webinars where we introduce a city in the world. And it has always been in combination, and cooperation with another World Trade Center. And it was such a wonderful thing. Because there you give them the opportunity for your local companies to get introduced to a city in the world, but also giving them the possibility to do some international business. And we started with it at the beginning of the Corona period, well, we knew that companies also in our region were pretty depressed in the beginning. And I thought, okay, we can sit down and just be depressed by the situation. But let’s start and offer new opportunities in business. And that’s actually how it all started. And the cooperation between the World Trade Centers – it shows really what our network does, and what our network has, in regards to trade and opportunities in trade, and so far, we have already had over 30 webinars and we will continue to go with it and to continue to do it. Now, of course, in the future, we hope that physically, that we can also do quite a lot. But I think a Promising Cities for International Business webinar opportunity is really a nice tool to show also the importance of our network.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 16:34
Absolutely. And I think it’s certainly here to stay and not mutually exclusive with in-person events. Thank you, EJ.

So we’ll cross the pond again and go to the great city of Toronto with Leigh. Leigh, congratulations with winning the award for Network Support. Tell us more about that.

Leigh Smout 16:49
Thank you so much, Robin, I just have to say it’s just an honor just to be on this panel with these amazing folks. And thank you so much for having us. And to the association, of course, You know, I have to say the network supports kind of it’s very personally gratifying. It’s about six years ago that, in Toronto, we reactivated our World Trade Center. And at the time, you know, I came in at and also that same time, and really just didn’t know what the network was about and how to use it, or even how to run trade services in Toronto. And so I was really amazed and surprised by the generosity of the World Trade Centers in how they shared their methods, and their strategies. And, you know, even you know, how they ran a program, you know, with getting content without paying, you know, I’ve worked with some of these folks right on the call here, and many others, especially across North America. And so it was, you know, something that I always wanted us to make sure that we integrated into how we did our business, that we would be an important part of the network, and that the network was really valuable to all of us. So we wanted to be that significant part. And I have to say, I’m really grateful to the team that I have at the World Trade Center because they’ve really taken that into their DNA. And they really believe in obviously, I think in Canada, we have to think about trade. We’re a small market. And so our ability to help folks by sort of living this and working with the whole network is really amazing. So it was awesome to be nominated for this particular award for those reasons. And then of course, it’s a whole other level to actually win it. So I’m really, very grateful.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 18:17
Absolutely. And your, if I may say so, Trade Accelerator Program, your program is truly world famous. So don’t tell us that, no, really. And you have expanded that and shared very generously within the network on how these types of programs can be set up. So tell us more about the TAP program.

Leigh Smout 18:35
Yeah, it’s been an amazing journey with TAP. It was something we incubated in Toronto, and it sort of had an organic national growth. So Winnipeg reached out with Mariette upon a time and said, “Hey, we’d love to have that here,” and Vancouver at the same time with Austin. They’re saying, “Hey, we like that program you’re doing. Any chance we can get in on this?” And at the same time, we had a couple of private partners, RBC, the bank, Royal Bank of Canada, was financing us and they were saying, “Hey, we like what you’re doing in Toronto. We’d love to see this across the country. How can we help financially?” And we also had Export Development Canada, UPS and some others who all said, “Yeah, this is something that it’s too good to lock up in Toronto.” So we were really lucky in a way that had that organic growth. But what then happened was once we got into Vancouver and Winnipeg, and then we added Montreal, all through our World Trade Center network. What happened was the federal government started to take notice, and we didn’t seek them out. So they sought us out. And we had a call from a Minister who said, “You might have noticed in the fall economic statement yesterday that there’s CAD $10 million for something around developing capacity and trade. Well, we basically put those funds in place based on what you are doing so you guys need to apply to that.” And it allowed us to expand this program into Calgary and Edmonton and then Halifax and Saskatoon when the new World Trade Center opened there. And so it’s been an amazing journey. And then, as we were doing that, we started to get asked about it quite a bit at all of the international gatherings and we’ve spoken about, of course, and as you say, as maybe it’s bit famous because of that, I know certainly Freerk and I were trying to figure out some way to do it. Unfortunately, our board of directors has decided we’re not an international organization in that sense. We don’t have international programs ourselves. We help people go international, but we’re not an international business. So we can’t sort of really run it the way we want it to. But we’ve helped people come instead and learn about it and figure out how they could run something like it themselves.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 20:24
Yeah, I remember you and I talked about that as well. How can this have a more international meaning? But, interestingly, I think it’s a wonderful program. So Leigh let me stay with you for a minute. You know, the organization WTCA is, we’re over 300 World Trade Centers, it’s a very diverse network, as we all know. But so I wanted to ask what makes the World Trade Center Toronto, like, really unique? What makes Toronto stand out in this diverse network?

Leigh Smout 20:53
Well, I would never like to say that we’re better than anybody. I think that everybody has their own niches where they have strengths. And the great thing about that is we all learn from each other, I think, you know, we’re very open to sharing. As you say, the network is so diverse, which is so valuable to all of us. Toronto is incredibly diverse. Toronto is the most diverse city in the world, and we have more than 53% of people that live in Toronto who were not born in Canada. So that is quite an incredible number. And we’ve had very fortunate federal immigration policies that allow students, if you do your degree here, you get to stay. So there are all sorts of that kind of thing. And we’ve attracted a great deal of talent because of it. Of course, we’re bigger than Chicagonow. We’ve got those kinds of problems of big, fast-growing cities, transportation, and of course, attracting enough talent for all the tech stuff that’s happening here, and so on, and housing costs and all that. But I think what makes us valuable in that network here is our focus on small and medium-sized businesses. So you know, we’re not a membership organization, we’re part of the Board of Trade, which is a membership organization. And the board, of course, has to take care of all those really big corporate entities that are centered in Toronto that are members, but at the World Trade Center Toronto, we’re able to really focus on the small businesses, and figure out what their needs are. And so we’ve been able, I think, one thing that’s made us successful is that we’ve been able to grow our programs. So we did start with TAP, but we immediately got into what we call market activation programs. So getting people into markets and connecting them. And through that, we’ve grown relationships with, for instance, global affairs Canada who are out in those markets. We’ve started to be able to support other World Trade Centers across Canada. I’ll just give an example, Austin, in Vancouver, he really doesn’t have enough staff to be running trade missions. So they put companies into the missions we run and we take them with us and make sure they’re well-cared for. So I think that kind of ability to grow our team to do some of that. And I’ll just add one last thing. One thing that we’ve noticed when we’ve taken companies into markets, we’ve trained them in TAP, and we’ve, they’ve had an export strategy, we take them to markets, and then they come back and go, “Well, we, we have this great opportunity to sell, but we don’t think we have the capacity. So now we’re not going to take that sale because we don’t think we can make enough.” So we’ve now started something we call the Growth Development Program. And this is really about scale up. And I think because of our experience with TAP, we see the Growth Development Program as something that we can consciously grow across the country. And so I thought, “Well, I think what makes us different is we have a little bit more capacity, therefore we can try new things.” We can develop them and then hopefully we’re in a position to be able to share them.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 23:26
Quite a unique proposition indeed. So let’s cross the pond again. Back to you, EJ, what was your one-liner to describe the uniqueness of the World Trade Center Leeuwarden?

EJ Schouwstra 23:37
The focus that we have is on matchmaking, matchmaking, matchmaking, so that’s our key aspect of that. Of course, we always present a network, the World Trade Center network with 320 offices in 90 countries. We also have a wonderful database with over 200 million companies to connect with. And that’s our strength–

Robin van Puyenbroeck 24:00
Sorry, did you say 200 million?

EJ Schouwstra 24:03
200 million companies are in our database. And it’s also what we make available for our companies in our region. So that, yeah, for all the countries that we have relationships with. Now, for all the companies that are in my database, I can say that I can connect every company in my region. And that’s our strength. In addition to that, we also have a wonderful database for European cities with World Trade Centers where we have inventorised clusters in these regions and that brings us also to another cluster database with over 700 clusters. And it’s also one of the strengths of the World Trade Center. We can connect, we can combine and we can also bring people together. And if you multiply all the 700 communities or the clusters, these clusters, then multiply them with 100 companies per cluster. It’s a wonderful tool to connect people to. So we really focus on growing business.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 25:07
Matchmaking, got it. Freerk, what makes Twente unique?

Freerk Faber 25:11
Well, I think it’s the combination of our services – we run a Business Club, we have trade services, we offer an ex-pat service so we support foreign knowledge workers. It’s quite unique in the world, connected with the World Trade Centers. And we have business services. And we have a soft landing program for foreign companies where we all connect those services. So for example, we have some companies from South Africa, they have a business address here, they come here and we coach them in doing international business, they do a program together with us to start in Germany and they go with a trade mission. And when they want to bring people from South Africa, we can support them with expat-related questions. So that’s the strengths of our team, that we can combine them. And of course, that is our ideal customers, so to say, that makes use of all those services. And that makes us unique. So our new building has the purpose of the founder of the World Trade Centers Association, Guy Tozzoli, and that is what we try to do in our new building where we are.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 26:24
Yes, I saw. Very nice. Congratulations on the move.

Freerk Faber 26:27
Thank you.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 26:28
So Tim, over to you. What makes World Trade Center St. Louis unique?

Tim Nowak 26:33
Robin, there are a couple of things when I think about it, and the first of which is just the staff experience, the depth of experience, and the history that this team has there. Most of my team has been here even predating me. And I’ve been here now a little over 14 years. But it’s a tremendous experience with the staff. But also we are a part of — our license, and we’re coming up with our 30-year anniversary, but our license is owned by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. So the economic development agency here for the city and the county. And it provides us tremendous strength in terms of resources, and position here in the community and outreach to the businesses here. And you know, through that we truly are a trusted partner within the economic development ecosystem here in St. Louis. So the World Trade Center is at the table for major initiatives, major projects, and so being that trusted partner really enables us to do many of the programs that we do here locally, and connecting St. Louis, again, to the world. So it’s the team and our strength being within the economic development sort of ecosystem here.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 27:41
Very well. Karen, what makes Denver unique? Except, of course, for this great new construction that you have going on in Denver.

Karen Gerwitz 27:50
Yeah, the one word that comes to mind is resiliency, the World Trade Center Denver has been operating for 35 years. And we, you know, started out in a branded two-tower complex in downtown Denver that housed not only us, but a lot of international consulates, and businesses. And we were there for 27 years. And I worked in that building for many years. But then, because our trade services are so strong, we started out as an educator, just trade educator, we’ve morphed that into trade education, trade consulting, trade accelerators, and many other services and network potential. So we have truly been resilient through the move from our downtown location into building a brand new World Trade Center complex that will be opening in 2024. I’m ecstatic about that. And I am excited to continue to grow this organization into really a pillar of the World Trade Center network and hope that we only can connect further with our global community.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 28:57
Yeah, that’s great. I’m very much looking forward to the grand opening and opening party of your new facility, Karen. So Karen, let me stay with you. And I just want to switch gears a little bit and have a bit of your take on all the current economic conditions. We seem to be around the world and in a perfect storm. So what are your perspectives on the current global trade and business environments? Where is this all heading?

Karen Gerwitz 29:27
Well, I think what we’re in today is it raises the attention to those that maybe aren’t as close to trade as those of us on the podcast. Trade brings prosperity. It brings peace, but we also realize it brings stability, and when you have an externality like COVID that hit all of us, and it disrupted supply chains more than anything else has in our past, I think it shows how important trade is to keep things flowing to keep things stable across the world. And for me, that is incredibly rewarding to know that what we do truly matters to every person in the world. And maybe they don’t realize it because they’re used to finding full stocked shelves in their stores or other things that they need at the ready. But this externality of COVID and what we’ve just gone through shows the importance of trade to bring us all together in a more positive, stable, sustainable way.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 30:33
And Tim, what are your perspectives on the subject?

Tim Nowak 30:38
Yeah, so if we didn’t already have enough challenges to our global supply chain here, coming out of the pandemic, and then, you know, the war in Ukraine and the geopolitical tensions that are building, you know, with China and elsewhere, it truly is that you got to borrow that phrase “globalization and transition” it is amazing to see where things have come from and where they’re headed. And I am not the futurist that that Karen is, I go back joking, half-jokingly, but in the early days of the pandemic, the World Trade Center Association brought together many of us and leaders from various World Trade Centers, and we were talking about ways that we can stay connected and how we can still provide services and value to our own business community. I remember Karen mentioning, you know, coming out of that, I was really worried that there was going to be this burgeoning protectionism that came across the globe. And locking down borders. And I remember Karen saying, “You know, I see this as an opportunity, because this is going to be a global solution to the pandemic.” And she was right. And so I give her credit on that. And so I want to see that continue to play out, this is really going to require connections and working together across the globe to solve some of these very complex problems of supply chains and foreign investment. So I don’t know where it’s all going. I know that there are many unknowns at this point. But I think our work is more important than ever, and what we’re doing to, again, promote a global city in our instance and truly a global partnership for our businesses and our communities.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 32:12
Yeah, well, thank you, Tim. And I couldn’t agree more that your work is more important than ever. And so Leigh, from Toronto Canada. What are your perspectives?

Leigh Smout 32:24
Well, of course, I agree with all of my colleagues here. And, you know, of course, we all live trade, and we really believe in it as a way to solve more than just trade. It is a way to solve political and other problems or to make it easier to want to solve them. You know, one of the things I think might be an interesting thing is this, as we look at the challenge of diversifying supply chains, I think we all recognize that certainly in Canada, we didn’t produce any vaccines, for instance, and we needed to find them. And so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. But I think there’s a certain amount of people are thinking about reshoring for things like PPE, vaccines and so on, there’s a little bit of that that’s gonna go on no matter what even so even to produce anything like that, you still need trade to get there, you still need a supply chain. So the other piece that I think is really interesting is that when you look at especially Europe’s dependence on oil and gas out of Russia right now, which is fueling Russia’s ability to wage war and other things, I can’t help but think that the pressure that’s going to put on not just maybe refunding new supplies of oil and gas, but in moving away from oil and gas and trying to move to greener solutions, and what is that going to do for us as potentially an economic opportunity in cleantech and green energy and other things around those things that relate to the climate economy? So I think there’s a real opportunity there and it’s not going to come from any one place we’re gonna have to do it all together.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 33:49
Yeah. Thank you, Leigh, for that. And you mentioned Europe so, Freerk, curious about your perspectives on where we are, where is this all going? And is there a different perspective from Europe?

Freerk Faber 34:00
Of course, we also have our own problems in Europe, so with the UK leaving the European Union, Brexit, of course, we are close to Ukraine. It’s not very far away – a lot of refugees coming from Ukraine and we support them, but all in Europe, we support them. And I think there is a shift also to see that if we can produce more nearby, be less dependent on long supply chains and we cannot do it on our own. So we’re looking really at European industry and politics. You see it also with the EU. EU commissioners are looking, for example, in the field of semiconductors and that fields, Leigh was already mentioning, the vaccines which we cooperate in with Europe and I think we also can play a role in that as the World Trade Center to find new suppliers, to find new market entry opportunities, and also to do it in a more environmentally friendly way. And so for example, we are working together with the border region, we are near the German border, to see if we can mean something in energy transitions, for example, hydrogen or battery storage. So finding new ways also in that field, because we also have a gas problem in Europe. So that exists, there are many challenges. But if we can only have just a small part of that as the World Trade Center to support that, we’re heading in the right direction.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 35:37
And EJ, what’s your perspective?

EJ Schouwstra 35:39
I’m very worried about the present situation at the moment. Worried in the sense, of course, that was already mentioned about the supply chain with the war in Ukraine, but also the situation with China, the tension between the U.S. and China, but also the tension that is created by the supply chain situation with Asian countries. Reshoring is, of course, a topic, but it’s not a topic that can be solved within no time. That takes time – takes, takes a lot of time. So I foresee changes in global trade where trade normally is a topic, which would, like what Karen was mentioning, which could bring peace. Now we also see the tension that global trade brings, talking about the gas and the oil situation. So I’m really worried. I’m also worried about my companies. But I also see them at the moment with the big numbers of orders, but for how long? And the world will change. The world is changing. And luckily, this changing time also gives new opportunities in the field of sustainability, which is of course, a major topic. But I hope that with trade, that we also bring it back to people, and how we live together and how we live and work together. And I sincerely hope that we can make better changes, also as the World Trade Center, to show that people’s business should also be human business.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 37:17
And I take from all of you that, regardless of the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty, there’s always opportunity as well. So thank you for that. And I would like to, in closing, I’d like to ask each of you, if you could share an anecdote of something that happened, it could be business-related, work-related, or in your private life, an interesting anecdote that you would like to share. So EJ, I’ll stay with you, not to put you on the spot.

EJ Schouwstra 37:50
One of the nicest things that we achieved as a World Trade Center was, of course, in 2016, where we were picked to become the organizer for the General Assembly in 2018. That was really something where we worked very hard on, but also the pride that we had in 2018 after being elected or selected in 2016. Having our colleague World Trade Centers from all over the world, in our relatively small city of Leeuwarden is really something that really made it very proud. And it’s also something that we will never forget. And for all other World Trade Centers, it’s a wonderful opportunity to present your city or your region.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 38:37
Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. So Freerk, any particular anecdotes you also want to share?

Freerk Faber 38:43
Yeah, well, of course, many, but to pick one… Well, quite often I meet a company, I’m with a company, and then he is looking for something or someone and well, I happen to notice. “Oh, what a coincidence.” I say no, it is not a coincidence. I organize coincidences, and it seems like a coincidence. But if you see so many people, if you hear so many things, you can connect people and that’s a good thing. And then that’s also the value of the World Trade Center. So I nearly have that every week.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 39:24
That’s a good sign to have on your desk, like “organizing coincidences.” So Leigh, how about you?

Leigh Smout 39:31
Yeah, I’d love to organize some coincidences. So that sounds great. I gotta say we just ran our first episode of a Growth Development Program. We had 12 companies kind of a pilot, and on its four days of intensive training, and with a lot of experts and all workshopping, and on day two, our facilitator said to the folks, “Okay, let’s just recap yesterday. What did you learn?” Kind of thing, you’re trying to get them going early in the morning. And I was just inspired by these companies the whole four days, but in particular, two of them said little things that I thought were really interesting, though, and sometimes I think we just take for granted that everybody knows business and knows their business and so on. And so one of them was a brewery. And they had four people at the session, and the one guy got up, he said, “You know, I went home yesterday, and I was just trying to stay positive because I realized that we’re not doing anything right.” And it’s kind of like, a little depressing, you know, but he goes, “But hey, I got three more days here. And hopefully, I’ll leave knowing some of the things, how to do them right at least.” And so I thought that was interesting. And another guy just simply said —Well, I remember there’s a day in between the sessions. And he said, “Well, yesterday, we had meetings, and I started implementing things I learned. For instance, at the end of the meeting, we were talking about something and then I said, “Okay, who, what, and when.” So really simple stuff, right? But then the team was looking at me like, “What are you talking about?” Well, we’ve talked about this before, from now on, when we talk about something, we’re going to come out with a plan on it. And then we’re not going to discuss it again, except how what we did and how it came out.” So just learning those little things. These little basics are so important to these businesses to their future success.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 41:03
Very short: how, when, and what. Very good. Tim, how about you?

Tim Nowak 41:09
June 1st, we launched the first direct flight from St. Louis to continental Europe in almost 20 years. Lufthansa now operates direct flights from St. Louis to Frankfurt. And for us, it was so fulfilling because we, the World Trade Center, led St. Louis’s application to the Brookings Global Cities initiative back in 2015. And through that, we interviewed more than 30 foreign-owned companies. And each and every one of them were telling us one of the barriers to increase investment in the community is lack of international connectivity. So for us, it was very personal. We’ve been working on this for seven plus years with the head of our airport. The World Trade Center played a vital role in this because we actually have done the agreement with Lufthansa. We have some federal, or excuse me, some local public and private funding that have gone into this to help sort of spur this in a small way. And I’ll tell you, just two weeks ago, Lufthansa hosted their national sales team meetings in St. Louis, and they were in our office hosting meetings. So we had a chance to talk about the importance of this to our economy and our community. And one of the things they shared with us was that this has been the most successful launch of a new market in memory for the airline. And flights are fully booked. And one of the things they said was, “Do you want to know what our top markets are for outbound St. Louis, passengers into Europe beyond Frankfurt is the obvious one? But the number two and number three routes are Sarajevo and Zagreb.” And if that tells you anything, we have a huge Bosnian community here. It just told us, “Yeah, that we are connecting our businesses, but we’re also connecting our community.”

Robin van Puyenbroeck 42:45
That’s incredible. And I will follow up with you on that because it’s a great story to share. And thank you. Karen, that brings me to you. If I remember correctly, there was also a new direct flight with United from Denver to Munich installed recently, right. And you went to the delegation to Munich?

Karen Gerwitz 43:03
Yes, we led a trade mission on that and worked with United Airlines. It was a great success. So for all around. Had about 20-25 companies. So it was great. United’s pleased with that flight. Well, my story… I’m so looking forward to going to the next general assembly in Accra, Ghana next April. This is where all the World Trade Centers come together. And to be honest, Ghana is where I started my international business career and I lived there in the early 90s. Running a large sawmill, doing international business from Ghana. And I can’t think of a better place for us to convene. And I want to lead a large delegation from North America. Hopefully we can collaborate across North America and lead a large trade delegation of businesses interested in Africa. But it’s just all of us coming together in a place like Ghana, which is the most welcoming and warm people in the world, in my opinion. And I think it’s going to be a fabulous, fabulous event for us. I met my husband there. It was the best two years of my life, living in Ghana.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 44:08
That’s an incredible story, Karen. I didn’t know this – it goes full circle you’ll go back with, I’m sure, a great number of trade delegations to the GA back to Ghana next year. Well, thank you all so much. Thank you, Karen Gerwitz of World Trade Center Denver, Freerk from Twente, Evert Jan from Leeuwarden, Leigh from Toronto, and Tim from St. Louis, thank you so much for joining the program.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 44:37
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