The 2014 Business Expo, hosted by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, emphasized growing businesses in a global economy. "Shop Local. Sell Global." was the message chamber members heard from numerous speakers beginning at breakfast and continuing at several breakout sessions held throughout Friday (May 2) at the Fort Smith Convention Center.
According to Chamber President and CEO TIm Allen, the idea for this year's theme came from a conversation with First National Bank of Fort Smith CEO Sam Sicard.
"It started out with how do we get people to buy local (during the Christmas season)," Allen said, adding that he and Sicard were looking for a way to expand beyond encouraging area residents to shop locally.
"The next step when Sam and I were talking about it, I (said), 'Our shops are not going to survive in the non-holiday season. They have to survive in the rest of the year. They've got to sell globally.' And Sam was like, 'So what you're saying is we need to shop local, sell global.' And I said, ‘That's it.’"
Speaking to the chamber members in attendance Friday, Sicard said for commerce to strengthen in the Fort Smith region, it would require members of the business community to start thinking outside the box. He said it cannot all fall on the Chamber's leadership to recruit business, either.
"There are other ways to increase commerce that's in the control of every one of us in the community," he said. "And simply increasing commerce by increasing the dollars that are coming into this community and limiting dollars going out of this community. The way that we do that, simply, is by exporting goods and services outside this community and bringing more dollars and more jobs into this community."
And while local consumers can do that by shopping locally, business owners have to start thinking globally, according to both Sicard and Allen, who brought in Quinn Frazier, business director at UPS, who discussed the future of eCommerce.
Frazier discussed how as a child growing up in Utah, his world and that of his friends and family did not stretch further than the streets of his neighborhood and town. But as the world as grown to become so interconnected through technology, businesses like those in his hometown cannot be content to just reach locals.
He pointed to the emergence of once sleepy towns as international commercial powerhouses that have a hunger for material goods and businesses, including those in the Fort Smith region, should be prepared to serve a growing middle class in a country on the other side of the globe.
The perfect example of this, he said, was Shenzhen, China, which data shows has grown from 332,900 people in 1980 to 10.467 million in 2011. The change represents a 3,044.31% increase in population in only 31 years.
According to Frazier, the explosive growth in emerging markets are not necessarily a bad thing, but represent opportunities for business owners willing to look beyond the boundaries of their own cities, states or countries. The opportunities to serve the growing middle class in other parts of the world is there if American businesses would just seize the opportunity, though he said only 350,000 businesses in the U.S. export and of those, 59% export to only one other country.
Even though Frazier was pointing out how local businesses could expand their reach and increase revenues and profits by looking outside the United States, he told The City Wire that businesses looking to reach locals must innovate just as much as those trying to reach an international market through the internet.
He cited a statistic that said by the year 2017, more than $13 billion in sales will be conducted on smart phones, and he said as businesses look to the future, they must keep mobile in mind, as well as the age of potential customers.
"I think, from a retail perspective, we've got to figure out how to almost duplicate the web shopping experience in a brick and mortar store," he said. "People want to come in. Fifty-four percent want to touch a screen when they come into a brick and mortar store. That doesn't make sense to me, anyway, but if that's the way that the trend is going, we need to figure out how to duplicate that."
The 2014 Business Expo was scheduled to run until 3 p.m. with a variety of educational seminars ranging from "The Pulse of the Online Shopper" to "eCommerce Through Three Generations: Boomer, X and Millennial."
The expo also featured vendor booths set up where businesses could showcase their services to Chamber members.