How International Education Drives Economic Development for Communities 

Editors note: This sponsored commentary by Amanda Shailendra, managing partner of The Pendleton Group, is the third and final piece in a series on how communities can cultivate a successful international economic development strategy. It is published as part of the firms annual sponsorship of Global Atlanta. 

Amanda Shailendra

In this series on how communities can craft international economic-development strategies, we have discussed the importance of securing business partnerships and intergovernmental ties. 

These two legs of a “three-legged stool” for strategy are strengthened by a third element – educational linkages – that help to grow and nurture cross-border economic development.

Business ties create financial opportunity and new jobs. Government ties provide legitimacy and create trust that is critical for effective partnerships. And educational ties build long-term relationships.

That is why The Pendleton Group always encourages communities to identify and nurture existing the international relationships or develop new ones between their local K-12 schools, technical colleges and universities and their counterparts abroad, while bringing along their corporate partners on these initiatives. 

Joint university research projects, student exchanges, innovation centers – all are potential anchors for economic development and can play an essential role in a community’s strategy for attracting and expanding international trade and investment. 

Identifying International Education Linkages

When we begin working with a new city or community client, we always do an evaluation of the existing partnerships the location might have with other countries that could prove useful for international trade and investment. 

Sister City relationships, for example, often provide opportunities for international students to come to Georgia or for Georgia students to travel abroad. 

Students may not normally be considered drivers for economic development, yet these types of cultural exchanges provide opportunities for personal growth that are especially important for smaller communities to gain international exposure. 

Exposure to a new classmate from a foreign country could help students develop a global mindset. With the current focus on workforce diversity, experiences with international contacts can help encourage broader ways of thinking – which will benefit communities in the long run in terms of attracting global talent.

Sometimes international linkages are present in a community but not utilized for economic development purposes. If a local professor has been working on research in coordination with an international partner, for instance, that partnership may spark secondary relationships, both within academia and with the greater business community. 

Industry ecosystems might also prove to be very valuable for student engagements. Companies at home and abroad play a big role in academic exchanges and academic relationship-building. 

Importing Innovation 

International educational institutions drive innovation partnerships. 

In metro Atlanta, there are more 70 colleges and universities, four of which are major research centers. All attract international talent.

Atlanta would not be named one of the Brookings Institution’s 19 “Knowledge Capitals” in the United States and Europe if it wasn’t for the city’s vibrant education sector. More than 40 corporate innovation centers have developed, in part, through ties to universities; 23 of these are located in Midtown to take advantage of the Tech Square community and access to Georgia Tech’s students and ecosystem. These innovation centers provide advantageous landing spots for international companies seeking globally minded talent.

Universities export innovation through their graduates, who often embark upon international careers while also maintaining professional or personal ties to their alma mater and its community.

Business incubators are often born out of academic research communities. Incubators such as the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech draw on universities’ research expertise and student talent to provide coaching, connections and resources for startups, some of which involve international entrepreneurs or help launch businesses into international markets.

Metro Atlanta has done a good job of creating fintech, biotech, medical or healthcare technology and other clusters that attract international companies and utilize partnerships with local universities. 

But smaller communities, too, can capitalize on linkages between international partners and community colleges, K-12 schools or other educational exchanges to begin to form communities around common goals.

Exporting Education

Sometimes we forget that education is an integral component of trade. But education is, in fact, one of the highest-ranked export line items for the state of Georgia. 

Study abroad programs, which develop not only personal relationships but also potential professional ties, offer excellent opportunities to establish long-term relationships between communities that can lead to economic growth.  

The number of Georgia students studying abroad in 2019-20 grew 7.1 percent from the previous year to 12,360.

Every foreign student that comes to Georgia is an example of the state “exporting” its educational expertise and experience. 

International students in Georgia spent $839.2 million on tuition and other expenses during 2019-20, ranking education among the state’s top 10 exports.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia’s international student population increased by 2.7 percent to 24,265.

After graduation, foreign students who are offered work visas may stay in Georgia and become part of the state’s workforce, increasing the talent pool for the state’s industry and government organizations.

Seeking to expand your community’s retention of foreign workers may involve promoting policies favorable to immigrants in state and local political arenas.

K-12 schools are also integral. The Atlanta International School and the Brandon Hall School are two of several international schools in the region that are building global bonds and relationships that promote our state’s economic development efforts. 

Education as a Workforce Driver 

When international companies look to invest in Georgia, they invariably investigate the location’s workforce potential. 

As such, technical colleges play a key role in economic development, as international companies need a source of competent workers with appropriate skills, plus training programs that they might be able to offer to their employees. 

While working on Cobb County’s international trade and investment initiative with Quebec, for example, Pendleton highlighted Chattahoochee Technical College as an integral part of our presentation. The college’s students, faculty, resources and ties to the greater Cobb business community were all assets for growing investment and trade between the regions.

From leadership training programs to research and development centers to small business incubators, connections between Georgia universities and international counterparts have served to link much more than academic interests.

Economic Ties Encourage Educational Exchange

Educational linkages can also result from economic development initiatives. When two communities focus upon business or governmental ties, they may discover academic synergies as well between their ideas, people and resources.

Georgia’s government incentives and business ties in the film industry, for example, have played a role in bringing academic groups together. 

While Metro Atlanta area was coordinating with cities in Canada a few years ago for film industry projects, the regional efforts brought together students from two Canadian universities with colleagues at Clayton State University and Georgia State University. They produced a short film about immigration to Canada called “I Am Here,” which was a featured film in international film festivals. 

Professional exchanges hosted by universities are another means of strengthening international ties. 

For example, through an economic development initiative, Jorge Fernandez from our Pendleton Group had the opportunity to teach U.S. market practices at China Jiliang University in Hangzhou, China. 

The three-month program arose following a Hangzhou delegation’s visit to Atlanta when the region wanted to better prepare its business students for future trade missions. The training program was part of an exchange agreement with Kennesaw State University.

These types of educational partnerships may not have been possible without business and governmental ties between regions.

The Bottom Line: Cultivating Lasting International Partnerships

The bottom line is education, business and government relationships are all fundamental components of a community’s international strategy. All three must work together to bind regions in mutually beneficial partnerships. And international partnerships can’t exist without strong relationships. 

Especially during these COVID-19 pandemic times when travel is restricted, sustaining close relationships with international partners is critical. Visiting in-person once a year is not enough – communities must ramp up their virtual contact to meet even more frequently. This is one good lesson that has resulted from the pandemic.

Also, now is not the time to create something brand new – communities should focus on existing strengths and identify the five to 10 assets they can leverage in the short-term. Communities should utilize existing relationships and capitalize on local, state and federal programs that are available – in business, government and education arenas – to exploit those assets.

Each community is different. But focusing on strengths that are flexible and adaptable during this time is key. The world is changing on a daily basis, and communities can too. 

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