04/17/08 — MOC looks towards global economy

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MOC looks towards global economy

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 17, 2008 2:03 PM

An economic connection between North Carolina and the eastern European nation, the Republic of Moldova could benefit both the small country and eastern North Carolina.

The Moldovan ambassador, Nicolae Chirtoaca, recently visited Mount Olive College and Dr. Kenneth Stokes, the dean of the Tillman School of Business at MOC, said the school is working to not only focus on helping develop future business leaders but directly boost economic development in the region. The possibilities of linking Moldova, a primarily agricultural nation, to the eastern North Carolina's agribusiness sector represent a chance to help both, he said.

"It's one thing to provide education to students, and I think we've done a good job of that. But it's another thing to help regional economic development," he said.

With an increasingly worldwide economy, Stokes said that the school's goal is to help tie regional economic development to that globalization, and that the recent visit by the Moldovan ambassador was just one of a number of steps that are being taken in that direction.

The Republic of Moldova is a former Soviet state of about four million people nestled between Romania and Ukraine. The purpose of the ambassador's visit was to announce a new direction in his country's long-standing relationship with North Carolina.

"What he said was, in effect, that Moldova is open for business in relation to North Carolina," Stokes said.

It's a relationship that goes back to the early 1990s when the North Carolina-Moldova Partnership for Peace program was first begun after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Since then the relationship has matured from a military one, to one based on cooperation in terms of civil emergency operations, the coordination of humanitarian efforts and the expansion of cultural, scientific and academic exchanges.

Now, said Goldsboro lawyer Phil Baddour, who was appointed co-chairman of North Carolina's bi-lateral committee in 1999 while still serving as the state House majority leader, that relationship is once again poised to move to the next level -- and Mount Olive College's goal is to get eastern North Carolina in on the ground floor.

Backed by the prospect of several hundreds of millions of dollars in Millennium Challenge Grant funds -- a federal development aid program based on good governance, sound economic policies and investment in health and education -- Baddour explained that Moldova is working to improve not only its basic infrastructures of roads, water and power, but also its economic infrastructure.

And because it's a heavily agrarian economy, Stokes explained, there's a lot of expertise in eastern North Carolina that may be able to help.

"The agricultural community here has a great deal of knowledge and experience, and the Republic of Moldova has a keen interest in tapping into that," he said.

That means, he explained, not only educational opportunities for his students, but also consulting, investment and trade opportunities for local businesses -- opportunities that can "grow North Carolina."

Now, one of the next steps will be to take a group of area businessmen on a trade mission -- a trip to exchange ideas and information while looking for sales and investment opportunities -- to Moldova in order to begin figuring out where those connections can take place.

"We need to seize this opportunity and move ahead," Stokes said. "I think this is a great opportunity for eastern North Carolina, and this is just one of many we're trying to coordinate. We're hoping to make this programmatic, not just episodic."

A similar relationship is being created with the State of Yucatan in Mexico, and preliminary discussions have been held with China and Ukraine.

But, Stokes explained, no single company or county in eastern North Carolina can make these connections on its own. It has to be a collaborative effort, and that's where the college comes in.

And while he declined to make any grand predictions or promises of results, one such step in that direction is a regional summit scheduled for later this month between more than 20 area chambers of commerce to discuss these cooperative efforts.

"They've indicated their interest in what we're doing with respect to this international piece. You never know when you start these things, but North Carolina is well-positioned (to take advantage of this global economy), and we recognize that together we're stronger," Stokes continued. "Globalization is a fact today. It's a force in the world. And we looked around and saw that no other business school in the region was engaged in this practice, so we wanted to engage. We need to connect (our) knowledge with the business community.

"This is not a time to just sit back and let things go on as they have in the past. The whole terrain is shifting and eastern North Carolina has to change."