Tuesday, October 2, 2007
By: Henry Ongeri
M. Sans L’argent is an immigrant from the nation of Togo in West Africa. Since arriving in the United States, he has successfully operated L’argent Realty and Mortgage Services, a small real estate and mortgage brokerage in a Minneapolis suburb. With the current slow-down in the housing market and ensuing credit crisis, M. L’argent is looking for alternatives. He is determined not to return to his previous job as a stocker in a neighborhood grocery store.
A friend has forwarded an invitation to attend the 2007 Pan African Trade and Investment Summit, a unique event featuring a high-level conference, the African Diaspora Dinner and the African Day at the Mall of America. He has started mulling over it. A quick glance at the guest list – including Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, the Vice-President of Nigeria, six African ambassadors and high-level state and federal officials – he is really considering registering. As M. L’argent ponders whether or not to attend, he keeps wondering: what is in PATIS for a small business owner like him?
The 2007 Pan African Trade and Investment Summit (PATIS) is an initiative of the Pan African Business Alliance (PABA), the chamber of commerce for African immigrant entrepreneurs, in collaboration with the Minnesota Trade Office, the Roy Wilkins Center of the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, the International Leadership Institute (ILI) and various African community and business organizations.
The Summit will offer participating countries and companies the opportunities to showcase trade and investment opportunities in Africa. Additionally, PATIS will provide local minority and immigrant owned businesses, access to critical resource partners and opportunities to deepen existing relationships. It commences on Thursday Oct. 4 with an opening address from Governor Pawlenty.
The principal benefit of PATIS can be summed up in one word: OPPORTUNITY.
Though, to varying degrees, the Summit will offer participating Fortune 500 companies, small and medium businesses, individuals, guests, host organizations, African, delegations, sponsors an opportunity unseen before in Minnesota. Its various facets – the three-day Summit at the Humphrey and the networking reception, the African Diaspora Dinner at Northland Inn and the African Day at the Mall of America – all promise unforgettable experiences.
Summit and Networking Reception
During the Summit, M. L’argent will be rubbing shoulders with some of the best and brightest in the business world. Minnesota is home to over 20 Fortune 500 companies, some of which have interests in Africa. There will be representatives from Cargill, General Mills, Target, Best Buy, 3M, Medtronic, Wells Fargo, Donaldson IBM and others. It often costs lots of money to meet and greet CEOs of such organizations.
Small to medium enterprises at the Summit will include Lemna International (a major sponsor of PATIS which has been very successful in infrastructure development in Africa), American Family Insurance, with a fast-growing number of African agents in the Twin Cities, Borton Overseas that operates cruises and tourist packages to Africa.
Other presentations by the Minnesota Trade Office, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and panelists of successful entrepreneurs are certain to benefit business owners like M. L’argent.
M. L’argent will also have numerous opportunities to network with other business owners. As the convener of PATIS, PABA has mobilized other ethnic chambers and organizations to invite their members to attend. At the very least, Mr. L’argent can be assured of a significant minority and ethnic representation at the Summit. Members of these chambers come from a variety of industries including but not limited to hospitality, real estate, health care, transportation, professional services, education, mortgage, information technology, import/export. He is well advised to carry tons of business cards to share.
African Diaspora Dinner
The African Diaspora Dinner will, in essence be, a reunion of people of African descent. M. L’argent will have even more opportunities to meet and network. This dinner, scheduled for the evening of October 5, 2007 at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park, is billed as the African family reunion 400 years in the making! The objective of the dinner is to begin conversation on the role of Africans outside of Africa in the development of the continent.
Last summer, the African Union declared the African Diaspora as the sixth region of Africa. This means any person whose ancestry may be traceable to Africa, regardless of station in life and country of residence, is now a member of the Africa. The new dispensation is overlooking the fact that the African may now be resident (or even a citizen) of the United States, Canada, Brazil or Germany. The dinner provides a unique opportunity for business people to appeal directly to people of African descent in the new spirit of the African Union.
African Day at the Mall of America
At the Mall of America, M. L’argent can purchase a booth and showcase his products and services in real estate and mortgage. He can partner with another business to share a table for only $500. Given that the Mall of America is the largest retail and entertainment complex in the country (the Mall contributes more than $1.8 billion in economic impact activity annually to Minnesota) M. L’argent’s fledgling business would get in front of hundreds of thousands of potential clients. The megamall has declared Oct. 6 African Day at the Mall.
Opportunities in Africa
As expected, the South African delegation’s message will include World Cup 2010 in South Africa. This marks the first time ever that the world’s premier sporting event will be held on African soil. Though South Africa offers First World economic infrastructure, there remains a need for infrastructure, accommodation, travel and other ancillary services. It is reported that the construction of five stadia has already generated 10,400 direct jobs!
Emerging markets in Africa present remarkable opportunities for trade and investment. For example, the Kenyan government has a declared national goal of providing 150,000 units of affordable housing per year. M. L’argent could invest in this or his native Togo with the help of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, an agency of the U.S. government that helps American businesses invest overseas. In 2004, OPIC granted a U.S.-based company (owned by a Kenyan-American) $7.4 million for a housing development project. At the Summit, the Managing Director of Small and Medium Businesses at OPIC, Mr. John Aldonas will be making a presentation on how to access OPIC resources.
Similar opportunities abound in tourism, energy, technology, education, health, micro-enterprise, infrastructure, agriculture and other sectors across Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is undeniable that PATIS will be an event like no other. And this is only the beginning. Its motto: Africa, Open for Business, will become mainstream as more American companies reap incredible rewards from investing in Africa. By attending PATIS, M. L’argent would have taken a significant step in the right direction.