Tacoma celebrates international trade at Globe Awards

Local businesses were honored Tuesday night for their role in promoting international trade, as the World Trade Center Tacoma held its 11th annual Globe Awards Dinner at the Tacoma Convention Center at the Sheraton.

Representatives from around the world – including China, Norway, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan – joined state, county and city officials, as well as area business leaders, at what is the largest international trade event in Tacoma.

“Welcome to the most stressful city in America,” joked Andreas Udbye, World Trade Center Tacoma executive director, referring to a recent national survey by Portland-based Sperling’s Best Places that named Tacoma as America’s most stressed city.

The evening was anything but stressful, as it turned out. In fact, the atmosphere was downright festive and even included a few unexpected musical interludes.

Rod Koon, director of port relations for the Port of Tacoma, hosted the live auction that took place before the dinner program, entertaining the crowd of over 500 people with his humorous antics. At one point, while auctioning off a guitar donated by Tacoma Guitar Company, he played a few bars of “Louie Louie” on the instrument and did a spot-on impression of Bob Dylan.

The most unexpected musical performance of the evening came courtesy of Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who was on hand to introduce keynote speaker George Russell, the former chairman of Russell Investment Group. Prior to that, however, he serenaded his wife, Linda, and presented her with a dozen red roses, as the couple was celebrating their 21st wedding anniversary. “Gentlemen, this is what I call investing in the future,” Owen said to a standing ovation and applause.

With the unenviable task of following such a moment, Russell took the stage to address the less romantic topic of globalization.

“Globalization is essential for the future of the world,” he said, claiming it is the primary tool people can use to narrow the gap between the “have” and “have-not” nations, a major cause of war and terrorism, according to Russell.

An unabashed supporter of globalization, Russell said the benefits outweigh what he described as “bumps in the road.” In the United States, for example, while some decry that jobs have been lost to India or China, Russell notes new jobs created in this country dwarf those lost by trade. Automation and rising technology are also contributing to the loss of some jobs.

“Manufacturing is going the way of agriculture in this country,” he explained, saying the U.S. is shedding lower-skilled jobs for new jobs that require more innovation and improved technology.

The biggest threat to America’s continuing prosperity is the nation’s declining education system, in K-12 schools and universities, Russell said. “Americans assume our education system is the best,” he noted, “but maybe it’s not.” The country’s education system, including business schools, need to be improved, Russell said, or America could lose its leadership role in the world. “We cannot rest on the laurels of the 20th century,” he stated. “We cannot be complacent.”

Nevertheless, he maintained a positive outlook on the future, predicting there will be only three currencies in the world in 100 years: one for North and South America, one for Europe (including Russia) and Africa and one for Asia. In another 100 years, he foresees a single currency for the world. “I agree,” he said, “that I am an optimist.”

The George Francis Train International Business Commemorative, which honors an individual or organization making a significant contribution to the international business community of Tacoma-Pierce County, went to the Roman Meal Company. Pioneers in nutrition, the Roman Meal Company has been in business locally since 1912. The company began as a producer of breakfast cereal, but the bread business surpassed the hot-cereal enterprise in the late 1940s. Today, about 90 bakeries in the United States and seven in Japan bake Roman Meal and is licensed in several other nations as well. “We certainly appreciate working through the Port of Tacoma,” said Charles Matthaei, chairman of Roman Meal Company, who added he was quite surprised his company received the award.

Recognized for its technological impact across the world, PC Professionals of University Place won this year’s Marco Polo Award. Founded in August 1990, PC Professionals develops and sells turnkey digital imaging solutions for the acquisition, enhancement and secure chain of custody for crime scene evidence to law enforcement agencies in America and around the world. “What we do is now kind of popularized by a lot of television programs like ‘CSI,’ ” said company president J.R. Poulsen, who thanked his employees for all the company has accomplished in the last decade. “Again, we’re very excited about the high-profile crimes we help solve,” he said.

The coveted Globe Award, which honors an individual or business that enhances the community’s international trade status, went to Fife-based Flex-a-Lite, a global leader in cooling technology since the 1960s. “Create peace, but do it on a clean planet,” advised company president Rainier Willingham. “We are a specialty manufacturer. We will survive globalization.”