How Chattanooga’s International Business Council supports Scenic City businesses in the global market

Photo by Jennifer McNally / International Business Council President Lulu Copeland
Photo by Jennifer McNally / International Business Council President Lulu Copeland

Think of the International Business Council (IBC) as a bridge between local business and the global marketplace.

Through networking events and support services, the council works to assist businesses in navigating and having success in international trade. Their mission: fueling economic growth by fostering strong international relationships and partnerships.

The IBC is one of the 12 councils under the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce's (CCC) umbrella. While the other councils are organized by geographical location, the IBC functions slightly differently, in that it spans 16 counties and caters to the needs of the international business community.

What sort of international presence is there in Chattanooga's business community?

Thinking of just our board members, we have Indian, German, Japanese, British and South American.

I know we have a large Ukrainian population living in Collegedale. And due to Volkswagen, we have a lot of people from Germany who live in Chattanooga. We have a German-American and French-American Chamber here in Chattanooga; and we have Filipino and Chinese associations here. In Collegedale, there is a large Korean church.

And that's just off the top of my head.

In your opinion, what are the key factors for businesses to thrive on a global scale?

People. You have to have the right people in the right job. If you're in a global economy, you have to have people with a global mindset or some international experience. And that's not gained overnight.

I'm on a board of a charter school, and there are a lot of Hispanic students there. I tell the students not to lose their first language. Of course, they want to learn English; but being fluent in a second language will support them in their career pathways, no matter what they choose.

And I do speak to teachers. Right now, both Baylor School and McCallie School both teach Chinese language. Whether you become an engineer, a doctor or whatever, that's an added skillset for someone's growth.

How does exposure to international education enhance business acumen?

To me, it raises the intelligence level of people to be exposed to different cultures. I'm concerned for our young and old. We have many people here who have not traveled as much as they should. We have people living here who may not have left Tennessee, and that's a disadvantage.

The understanding of different people and different cultures, and the way they do business can help negotiation. For instance, there are some cultures that don't like to discuss money up front. They won't establish a friendship or relationship until there's a certain amount of trust or understanding.

What are some emerging trends in international trade that Chattanooga businesses are currently experiencing or adapting to?

For international business, the supply chain continues to be an issue. As an example, Nokian Tyres had to increase production in Dayton, Tennessee. The company had a plant in Russia, but when the Ukrainian war got started, Nokia shut down that production, so another plant had to make it up. And that was Dayton's gain.

Right now in manufacturing, there's a discussion with artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. When exchanging data from one country to the next, there are bad actors globally, so that's a challenge.

There are trade issues with China. The U.S. is trying to grow chip-making manufacturing -- not in Tennessee, but in states like Texas and Arizona. But we might have companies working with those types of industries.

Staying informed about global affairs, whether it's economics or politics, is important because it does affect business operations.

What advantages are there for businesses involved with the council?

One example is, this winter, we offered a tax talk for international companies with local accounting experts. But we have all sorts of events where speakers share their expertise on topics like investment, legal matters, education. That's the incentive -- we try to scout out the needs and resources that are needed.

There are participants from all industries in our footprint. Due to my background in engineering, I do work a lot with manufacturing; but there are other board members with other skill sets who offer other expertise.

What's on the horizon for the IBC?

We have meetings coming up with both the German-American and the French-American chamber councils here in Chattanooga; and both will have speakers. And we are working with the Chattanooga Chamber to offer a talk on foreign trade zones.

The focus right now for the Chamber, in all of their programming, is on work force. I'm always trying to think, "How can I make sure the programs are shared with students at all the universities who are majoring in international business? Is there a way to connect them with employers?"

Lulu Copeland was a founding board member of the International Business Council and is serving as the current president. She is retired from Chattanooga State, where she served as the director of Economic and Workforce Development. She actively participates in several boards and committees across Chattanooga. Her educational journey took her from elementary school in Taiwan, to middle school in the Philippines, to graduation from Hixson High School.


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