Elizabeth Goryunova, executive director of the World Trade Center in Salt Lake City, carefully combs through the website of the World Bank, an international organization based in Washington, D.C., searching for procurement opportunities that her clients in the Intermountain West might be qualified for and interested in. Jessie Yu, manager of the International Investment and Trade Department at the Greater Houston Partnership, hosts a conference on investment opportunities in Africa with a World Bank expert for an audience of 100 private-sector representatives in the Houston area. Rebecca Riebe, director of global business initiatives at the Global Midwest Alliance in Chicago, advises a consulting firm on how to bid on a World Bank project in Brazil. What do they all have in common, and why does the World Bank matter to them?
Elizabeth, Jessie and Rebecca are part of a global network of private-sector liaison officers, or PSLOs. They serve as a resource for private-sector companies within their individual communities, by providing information on business opportunities and services available through the World Bank. Ultimately, PSLOs work with the World Bank to help American businesses expand their access to international markets.
“The World Bank matters to Utah because there are billions of dollars worth of projects financed by the bank, around the globe with contracts that U.S. companies can bid on,” says Goryunova. “We’re here to help Utah businesses recognize and take advantage of some of these opportunities.”
Owned by 188 member governments, the World Bank provides loans and advice to developing countries for large-scale projects designed to improve living standards. These projects—building health clinics and schools, investing in roads so farmers can get goods to market, improving telecommunications and sanitation—frequently involve international competitive bidding, under guidelines established by the World Bank. These guidelines help level the playing field for U.S. companies.
World Bank commitments to developing countries totaled more than $57 billion in the last fiscal year and more than $70 billion the previous year. Projects supported by these loans and credits can be a great source of business opportunities for local and international companies.
The PSLOs initiative is a network of business advocacy organizations, such as chambers of commerce and trade associations, that work to foster trade and investment between countries with the support of the World Bank. Fully financed by their host organization and trained by the World Bank, the PSLOs provide information about the bank’s products and services by hosting seminars on business opportunities in emerging markets, conducting one-on-one counseling sessions to companies interested in expanding their international business presence, facilitating access to World Bank expertise in a wide variety of international development issues, and organizing trade missions to emerging markets to help American companies develop relationships on the ground.
The PSLOs guide U.S. companies through the procurement process, creating better understanding and more opportunities to bid on these projects. There are currently 129 PSLOs around the world, including 10 across the United States. The U.S. PSLOs are located in Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Texas, Utah and Washington.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than 50 percent of U.S. exports are to developing countries, which is where World Bank lending programs are helping to open markets. The U.S. Treasury estimates that exports to emerging markets where the World Bank operates are responsible for creating or sustaining millions of U.S. jobs each year.
The World Bank’s mission is to help people help themselves and their environment by providing resources, sharing knowledge, building capacity and forging partnerships in the public and private sectors, with the goals of promoting economic growth and overcoming poverty. “This is a win-win opportunity for the World Bank and U.S. businesses,” says Ian Solomon, United States Executive Director to the World Bank. “This is an opportunity to improve living conditions in some of the world's poorest countries while creating opportunities for American workers and helping American companies expand their international business.”
The first PSLO created in the United States was with Global Midwest Alliance in Chicago, Illinois. Since the Alliance became part of the PSLO network in January 2008, there has been a substantial increase in the number of Midwestern companies bidding on World Bank procurement contracts, resulting in an 83 percent increase in the number of those companies winning contract bids.
As the PSLO in the Midwest, Global Midwest Alliance provides an essential link for the private sector to the World Bank in the form of educational outreach, both to individual companies and to private sector groups; hosts industry sector seminars with relevant development topics of focus; and organizes program visits by World Bank representatives. The Alliance holds multiple events each year, of which the PSLO role is a focus. Rebecca Riebe, director, Global Business Initiatives, who serves as the PSLO, has also helped co-organize a number of development programs with other PSLOs, both to the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as in-country programs in emerging markets.
Rick Stephens, senior vice president of administration and human resources at the Boeing Company and chair of the board of the alliance, fully supports the efforts of the PSLO program. “By aligning and integrating existing resources, Global Midwest Alliance connects trailblazing entrepreneurs and companies to technology, capital and global markets. The Global Midwest Alliance PSLO is opening global trade flows vital to our region. We encourage area businesses to capitalize on these opportunities to build high-growth, innovative companies.”
The PSLO in the Midwest is also proud to point to the tangible results of the PSLO program. "Due to GMA’s PSLO efforts on our behalf, Smart City Initiative/First Response (SCIFR, Inc.) has been provided the opportunity to develop and execute a sponsored sustainable development program for Haiti. We were consistently informed that one of the principal reasons these ranking decision makers took our meeting was because of GMA’s status with the World Bank Group and other ranking organizations," said Cal Barksdale, president of SCIFR, Inc.
The Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) joined the PSLO network in January 2010. GHP hosts the PSLO, and is joined by a number of local business and educational organizations that collaborate and support the PSLO mission in Houston: the Mayor's Office of International Trade & Development; Rice University; University of Texas, Center for Energy Economics; U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Commercial Service, Houston; and the World Affairs Council of Houston.
As an international city, Houston was a natural fit for a PSLO. Ninety-four countries have official representatives in the city, and six of Houston’s top 10 international trading partners in 2010 were client countries of the World Bank Group. To build upon this international foundation, GHP was excited to become the third organization in the United States to join the PSLO Network.
In joining the PSLO Network, GHP has facilitated Houston companies’ greater access to business opportunities in emerging markets. GHP has connected them to other business initiatives and seminars and hosted World Bank Group representatives that focus on industry sectors and regions. Examples of seminars where GHP has hosted a World Bank representative include a World Bank procurement seminar; a project financing business seminar for the oil and gas industry; an educational seminar discussing Africa’s future, and the World Bank’s support of it; and a trade seminar discussing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and its future impact on Houston, Texas and Colombia, which involved congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Ambassador Michael McKinley, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and Gloria Grandolini, World Bank Country Director for Colombia and Mexico.
The PSLO network is a dynamic group of committed professionals that are collaborating, communicating and coordinating their efforts to assist businesses all over the world. The Annual PSLO Energy Mission, to the World Bank and other international financial institutions, is organized by PSLOs from the United States, Canada and Italy, and attracts companies from around the world who are seeking to get a competitive edge on the latest international development work on energy. Another recent successful PSLO collaboration was a multicountry trade mission to Colombia, Peru and Haiti in November 2011. Forty-six participating companies from the United States, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands had a unique opportunity to learn from experts at the World Bank Group and Inter-American Development Bank about viable business opportunities in the region and the overall business environment.
Andres Salazar, director of hydrology and hydraulics at Walter P. Moore and Associates in Houston, was one of the 46 participants on the PSLO mission to Colombia. "The PSLO Network and GHP trade mission to Colombia was a unique opportunity to learn about the main infrastructure projects in that country, and to hear insights and goals from different agencies. The mission's networking environment helped us with establishing first contacts with potential partners, local government and funding agencies. The trip gave us accurate information to select the projects that fit our skills, and to determine the level of participation we want to achieve."
In October 2012, the North American PSLOs plan to collaboratively lead a similar private-sector mission to Indonesia and Vietnam. The goals of the mission are twofold: to learn about the current business, political and social environment in Indonesia and Vietnam, and to learn how companies can do business with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank on financed projects in these countries.
Elizabeth Goryunova, executive vice president at the World Trade Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the newest PSLOs to join the network. Goryunova speaks enthusiastically about being part of the network: “It is an honor to be a part of a team that aspires to make a difference in the world; I am looking forward to leveraging resources available to the PSLO network through the World Bank to bring tangible opportunities to private businesses, specialists and researchers.”