INA – Rend Lake College was the last stop on the first southern Illinois tour for the Reverse Trade Mission – an initiative created by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to introduce Foreign Trade Commissioners to industry throughout the state.
The 19 commissioners who participated in the Reverse Trade Mission are the trade liaisons between the U.S. and their countries. Based in Chicago, each commissioner typically covers a 12- to 14-state region.
Their chairman, the Netherlands Consulate General Cor W. Hersbach, said the tour was an “eye opener” for the “global club” and that he was impressed with the collaboration and cooperation he found among southern Illinois businesses and community colleges.
“We are very happy that the DCEO took us to these parts of southern Illinois,” Hersbach said.
In addition to RLC, their two-day tour took them to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, John A. Logan Community College, Aisin Manufacturing in Marion, DBT America in Carrier Mills, Southeastern Illinois College, Man-Tra-Con Corporation in Marion, Bombardier Recreational Products in Marion and Continental Tire North America in Mt. Vernon.
Rend Lake College officials were able to meet with commissioners representing 16 different countries during lunch and a tour of the new RLC Applied Science Center. They included commissioners from the Netherlands, China, South Korea, Hungary, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Japan, Lithuania, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Malaysia and Canada.
Enrique Alejo, the trade commissioner from Spain, said the educational aspect of institutions they visited is “impressive” and that he recognizes the important role higher education plays in a well-trained workforce.
“I especially like how educational opportunity is offered to low-income people,” Alejo said.
He added that the tour provided him a different perspective of Illinois outside of Chicago and he noted the quality workforce he saw at corporations in southern Illinois communities.
According to Warren Ribley, Director of Operations for the IDCEO in Springfield, the southern Illinois workforce is one area the IDCEO wants to impress upon the trade commissioners. Community colleges are a key facet of that quality workforce, he said. Gov. Rod Blagojevich called the Reverse Trade Mission “an important move to strategically expand foreign direct investment in southern Illinois and open new markets abroad.”
“We see Rend Lake College as a strong asset in southern Illinois,” said Ribley. “In the southern region, you see a cooperative effort between local industry and institutions within the community college system. You have to have a very productive workforce. ... Production is the key.”
Global competition has created a tremendous challenge for the entire U.S., according to Ribley. In regard to jobs in Illinois, he said technological advances are often overshadowed by outsourcing. He pointed out that some loss in manufacturing jobs are due to technological advances in industry that have made it easier to reach high levels of productivity with less workers, thus trimming the workforce. However, the employees needed to maintain that high level of productivity must be trained well and community colleges, such as RLC, are where much of that training is provided, Ribley said.
State Rep. Kurt Granberg, D-Carlyle, also attended the event at RLC.
Ribley said that fostering economic development in Illinois through the Reverse Trade Mission would not be possible if it were not for individuals like Granberg. He also stated that continuous collaboration with RLC administrators is important to the IDCEO.
“We’ve come to see you and we hope that ... you will come see us,” Ribley said. “Get in touch with us. We are not just here for the hit and run. We hope to collaborate in the future.”
Miklos Martin-Kovacs, Trade Commissioner from Hungary – along with China’s Consulate General Liang Gang and Switzerland’s David Kouidri with Polydec International – harmoniously agreed that coal mining and technological advancements in removing harmful emissions from coal were the two most interesting aspects of the tour.
Martin-Kovacs said Illinois coal’s potential is impressive.
“I could hardly believe ... how much coal is reserved,” he said. “Also, the technology that is based on the demand to mine it and reduce the emissions, to me, that was the most striking potential.”
Gang said China is interested in coal, since it is a country that uses high quantities of coal to generate energy. First, he said, “the technology – particularly the clean coal technology – is very advanced here and we are interested in further promoting that.”
Also, China is interested in supplying the demand from U.S. companies – DBT America in Carrier Mills for one – for coal mining and clean coal machinery, Gang added.
Kouidri also brought up advances in technology that enable the use of bio-products, such as corn and soybeans, to produce things like paint, glue and tables.
Following a luncheon, buzzing with conversation between the commissioners and RLC representatives, the group toured the new Applied Science Center on campus that houses the Fabick Heavy Equipment Technology, Agriculture Mechanics and Diesel Mechanics programs.
Dr. Sarah Bond, Chair of the Applied Science and Technology Division at RLC, led the tour.
“We are very proud of this facility,” she told the group of Trade Commissioners after explaining how students receive top-notch training at the Applied Science Center.
“It was our esteemed honor to be a part of the first Reverse Trade Mission to tour southern Illinois and showcase the Applied Science Center,” Bond said. “The visit certainly reiterates the fact the we live in a global society. While we tend to focus our daily efforts on the communities we serve, building relationships on a global scale is of paramount importance.”