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Becoming part of the global economy is no longer a choice, we are already part of it. But as large as the American economy is, it is less than 10% of global commerce. Trying to turn back the tide just isn't going to happen. In fact, by one estimate, American households would spend an additional $10,000 per year (or lose this much in goods and services) if we remained domestically focused. We are blessed with huge expanses of productive land that, when coupled with education and technology, produce food and materials for the world. In fact, one-third of agricultural output leaves our shores. Our country leads the world in technology, advanced education and medicine. So the question becomes, does the agricultural sector of our economy - or any other sector - slow down, or do they actively pursue foreign markets?

Beyond just pointing to a 'world of opportunity', both our federal and state governments provide continually improving assistance. Great informational portals may be found at:

Trade associations, journals and schools are next with websites (like and other resources. Then, go to front-line export/import specialists employed by major shippers/carriers, freight forwarders, document preparers, government agencies and service providers (such as lawyers, accountants, insurers, marketers, etc.). Small package shippers like DHL, Fed-Ex, UPS and US Mail have user-friendly forms and helpful specialists. Large banking and credit firms make borders and currencies almost invisible. Communication and computer advances remove time barriers. Look at the call center industry of India and Pakistan that now serves clients worldwide and employs over one million agents.

Global dependency and inter-dependency pertain to food, manufacturing, communications, money, security, politics, inventions - everything! Another example many can relate to each day - approximately $6 billion dollars of coffee comes into the U.S. while $1 billion leaves. One in five domestic jobs depend upon world commerce - 41 million in all.

So are there hardships involved with world trade? Absolutely. As one "dry" economic report puts it; "some firms and workers have been hurt" while talking about big picture trends. When the injury occurs to you, or your community- it hurts, sometimes a lot. Illinois ranks fourth in jobs lost during the past decade as trade with China grew. We like the sound of American goods and services finding new markets overseas, but not of jobs moving overseas. Seeing offshore jobs return is a bright and recent note. Products coming into the U.S stir up a mixed cauldron of opinions, emotions and topics. They get right to the heart of any discussion about capitalism, competition, education, workforce development.

It is important to know US Customs restrictions and international sanctions as geo-politics play significant roles in trade. International relationships take added effort since social customs and languages do vary. Still, knowing your trading partners has always been important. Illinois and the federal government offer aptly named "matchmaker" events and programs to help with relationships. Start with the helpful network of specialists and discuss the impact of treaties, agreements, standards and international governing organizations will have on you.

The outlook for an increasingly integrated world economy is as bright as it is inevitable. The point of this article is to suggest an approach that is built upon knowledge and awareness. Many talented people are available to help individuals and businesses along this educational journey.


By Steven Groner, Community and Economic Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension