Local international chambers of commerce are as diverse as the pieces in a mosaic work of art, but they're the same when it comes to their mission: Drive business and promote goodwill between their native countries and Greater Cincinnati.
 
The roster is impressive:

European-American Chamber of Commerce, led by executive director Anne Cappel, a French native who came to the United States in 1987 to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Cincinnati and stayed.

Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce, led by Shau Zavon, president and co-founder. She is president of Golden Nexus Group Inc., a consulting company specializing in China-U.S. business development and education exchanges.  She is also a vice president of Ownerland Realty and a licensed Realtor. 

Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA, led by President Alfonso Cornejo. Cornejo, who formerly worked at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble and Chiquita International, as well as Clorox, is also president of AC & Consulting Associates, a Walnut Hills business consulting firm. He grew up in Mexico City and came to Cincinnati in 1988.

Indian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, led by Rayan Coutinho, president, and Krutarth Jain, vice president. Coutinho is a lawyer at Wood & Lamping, downtown, who came to Cincinnati in 1989, and Jain is an associate at Champlin Architecture who came here in 2002.

India-US Business Network, led by Executive Director/President Dr. Chitra Edwin, who has significant product and management experience in start-ups, midsized and large biotechnology and diagnostic companies. Edwin is currently a consultant and regulatory and compliance specialist at Compliance Insight, Inc. and is a board member of the Opus Institutional Review Board.

Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati, led by Carla Romanelli, a former P&Ger who spent time in Japan and was recently appointed executive director of the society.

All six groups seek to promote business development in Greater Cincinnati, but they also serve as support systems for immigrants already in the area.

Notably, the Japanese group's first mission is to promote friendship between Americans and Japanese, Romanelli says. "It's a very unique society," she says, noting that there are 30 Japanese societies across the U.S.; the oldest was started 100 years ago.

They survived World War II and economic competition between the two countries, and continue to thrive. Cincinnati's chapter began in 1988.

"We are the feet on the ground for facilitating education, understanding and just fun for businesses as well as individuals," Romanelli says.

By promoting such friendship, the business just naturally comes, she says.

100 Companies, 10,000 Jobs

"We have here in the Greater Cincinnati area over 100 Japanese businesses that have felt very comfortable coming to this region, and those 100 companies have brought over 10,000 jobs."

That's the theme, although not the primary mission, of the other chambers as well.

Cornejo describes it as having "one leg in each side," promoting international trade in addition to advocating for Hispanics in this country.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., making up 16.3% of the population in the 2010 census, although they are not as well represented in the Midwest generally and Greater Cincinnati specifically.

The census found 56,000 Hispanics in the area in 2010, Cornejo says, but he estimates 65,000 to 70,000, including the undocumented. That's still just 3% of the area's population.

Hispanics are better educated and have a bigger share of professional jobs in the area, according to a 2006 study (updated in 2010) by the University of Cincinnati.

That helps the business community and provides mentoring resources for younger Hispanics, Cornejo says.

Billions in Economic Activity

"The energy that Hispanics bring is something we need," Cornejo says, adding that more Hispanics, who generally bring a strong work ethic, would benefit the economy.

The 1,600 Hispanic businesses in the area generate about $2.3 billion in economic activity, which is a bigger proportion than the population overall produces, he says.

One of the biggest issues for Hispanics is U.S. immigration policy. Cornejo says the chamber favors comprehensive reform.

"God did not build any walls between the countries," he says. "A guest worker program that is flexible and robust would solve all of the problems" and boost the American economy.

He pointed to Canadian policy, which allows migrants to work in the country for a set period, then they return home.

Workers are interviewed, go through background checks, get documented, pay taxes and can return year to year, he says.

It's About Business

Immigration policy also hinders other ethnic groups, but for different reasons. For instance, workers from India generally are highly skilled "” doctors and other medical professionals, and technology workers are sought in the U.S., for example "” but the number of those admitted to the U.S. is limited.

"The non-availability of visas makes it harder for India-based companies to bring its employees and executives here," Coutinho says.

Jain adds that "reverse immigration" is beginning to be a topic in the Indian-American community, whereby Indians who come here for education or to work cannot stay, so they go back to India and create their own companies and contribute to India's economy rather than the U.S.

Zavon, who started the local Chinese Chamber with her money and a few volunteers in 2005, says U.S. immigration policy also hurts expansion of Chinese businesses.

"The Chinese need to have easier access to business visas when needed to come to U.S. to explore and/or expand business," she says.

"We need more official support. The Chamber alone cannot bring businesses from China to the Midwest." She estimates 8,000-10,000 Chinese live in Greater Cincinnati.

Coutinho and Jain say they want to make one thing clear, though: Their chamber is not an ethnic chamber. It's a business chamber. Many members are non-Indians, and that promotes understanding and networking among all groups.

Connect the Dots

Indians are relational, so when an Indian company locates in an area, more Indians are likely to follow, Jain says. He cites Tata Consultancy Services, which opened a large operation in 2008 in Clermont County. Traditionally, Indians have been drawn to California, New York, New Jersey and Texas, says Jain.

"Cincinnati used to be a flyover city," Coutinho says, but Tata has already helped draw Indians to Cincinnati and the
Midwest.

As more Indians land in Greater Cincinnati, he says, the Chamber's primary mission is to focus on referring them to a network of resources.

They say about 6,000 Indian families live here. Trade between the U.S. and India totals almost $50 billion a year.

For the European-American Chamber, networking and "connecting the dots" are a key part of its mission. Cappel says the Chamber wants to be a forum in which the latest information on education, business, trade and other issues is exchanged.

"We believe we can make a difference in providing a platform "” thought-provoking, inspiring discussion and then connecting the resources," Cappel says.

Cappel was a founding member of the French-American Chamber in 2001, about the time that the euro was gaining traction, so the group quickly realized the importance of expanding to all of Europe.

"Nowadays, companies don't look at Germany, France or Italy. They look at Europe, and then they pick," Cappel says. The Chamber's member network includes companies "that have a need we can serve or a resource that is helpful to the rest of the network."

About 250 European companies with 290 sites employ 30,000 in Greater Cincinnati, Cappel says.

A recent success story for the Chamber is Meyer Tool of Cincinnati, Cappel says. Meyer wanted to establish a second plant in Poland but had been facing months of red tape. The Chamber hosted a Polish official in one of its programs, told him about the issues Meyer faced, and he immediately went to work to resolve the issues.

"Those are resources that come right to Cincinnati," she says.

The issue that all of the chambers agree on is funding for what they do. They don't have enough. Each has just a few paid staffers or is all volunteer. "¢#169;Something else they agree on is they're not in competition with one another. By having the six international groups, companies can choose one or more of them as they develop business in each of those regions of the world.

"We're not competitors, but collaborators," Cappel says. "We promote each others' programs as partners because it's one way of raising the visibility of international trade in Greater Cincinnati."


 
 
Anne Cappel
Executive Director
(513) 977-8670
www.europe-cincinnati.com
Members: 145
Founded: 2001*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
GREATER CINCINNATI CHINESE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
 
 
 
 
JAPAN AMERICA SOCIETY OF GREATER CINCINNATI