Global Conversations With: Wilfred Muskens, Deputy Secretary for the Office of International Business Development

Alison Vayne, for GPA -- Wilfred Muskens first joined the Department of Community and Economic Development in 2000 and was appointed seven years later as Deputy Secretary for the Office of International Business Development. Muskens and his team of international economic development specialists are in charge of international trades and investments. Muskens’ goal is to expand Pennsylvania’s international business, help local companies increase exports and bring the state into foreign markets.

Can you talk about the different aspects of the Department of Community and Economic Development?

We are in charge of international trades and international investments. Our main offices are helping Pennsylvania’s companies export products and services and that includes helping our universities and colleges to be more successful globally by attracting international students and helping international partnerships develop at term. That is what you would call the export side of the office.

Then we have the export sales office that is in charge of attracting foreign investments to the state. We have corporate investments attracting businesses from other countries that want to come to the U.S. and convincing them that Pennsylvania is at the very least a good option for them and hopefully the best option.

In terms of the structure, we work with regional partners that are called The Regional Export Network Partners. They are local institutions such as the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. They are the official representatives of our program in the area. We have our team in Harrisburg that is in charge of managing the entire trade and investment program and we have our regional partners, like people at the World Trade Center and some others across the state.

Then, maybe the most important component, is our international offices. We have built over the years a network of international representatives. Currently, I think we have 25 international offices across the globe. We select the best candidates from all over the world, places like Brazil and Australia, and then we give them a contract to represent Pennsylvania in their market. They will be in charge of helping Pennsylvania’s companies and universities make connections and they are investment representatives in charge of finding companies in those countries that want to come to Pennsylvania.

We are the largest international program in the country. Pennsylvania is the largest by numbers, by budget, by foreign statutes, by results and it is used as a model for other states. So these are the big goals for our company and universities can take advantage of that.

What is a typical day at work like for you?

Primarily my role is to work on the strategic initiatives for the office. That includes also working on the budget. That has been a challenge over the last few years because of the state budget situation, which has not been very good. So my role is to work on the budget numbers and see how we can make things work. That is one of my responsibilities.

The other is speaking about the program everywhere I can so I travel to a lot to different parts of the state. I travel primarily to speak about the program because one of the challenges here as an international business is that people are not aware of it, do not think it is important for the state or believe that their company cannot be involved in this. There is a lot of misunderstanding on why this trade and investment program is important for the state.

Once people see the numbers, it is a pretty easy case to make. We doubled our exports from about 17 billion to over 40 billion. And that means that exports support more jobs, that it creates more investments, it creates more factory jobs in Pennsylvania and it imports suppliers.

Look at how many companies in Pennsylvania are foreign companies and how many of these companies are investing in Pennsylvania. In fact, that are more than 240,000 jobs in Pennsylvania that are supported by foreign companies. That is a substantial percentage of our work and that number has been increasing as well over the past couple of years. Two really good things about that is that one, foreign companies definitely pay more. If you look at the national statistics, foreign companies pay higher salaries. And the second is that foreign companies tend to be exporters. So they export a lot more than domestic companies do.

A lot of what my role is awareness building of the importance of international business development for a state. To do that, I need the support of organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and legislators, who are definitely an important aspect of what I do. They are the people that give us our budget. So we need support from the legislators and from the governor. We have had consistent support from the governor’s office, however the challenge has been for us to get support from the legislators. I think the main reason for that is that they are responsible for a small, local area in the district and they just get busy with a lot of local issues and they do not necessarily make connections in the global marketplace. So to me, being able to go sit down with the legislator decision makers to say, “Hey, look at all those numbers in your district and look how important they are for your region.” And most of the time they have absolutely no clue and they learn, and realize that yes, the state should be pursuing international business.

How does International Business Development exist within the Department of Community and Economic Development?

We are a division. Governors have different secretaries, like my boss is a secretary of Community and Economic Development and each secretary has a few deputy secretaries. I am one of four deputy secretaries within the department of community and economic development and I am in charge of the international business development. So I report to the secretary. It shows that international business is a priority for the economic development in Pennsylvania because of my position being at the deputy secretary level, which is not the case in many other states. It shows the commitment that people realize, at least in this department, that international business is an important component of our economic development and we want to keep it on the top of our priorities because it helps support our salaries, it helps create jobs in Pennsylvania, it helps create new businesses.

What do you want to achieve in the future?

I want to make sure that Pennsylvania remains the number one state in the country for international business development. We are in that position now but with the budget cut we had this year, I hope it was an exception and that we can continue to grow our operations next year. My first priority would be to make sure that we keep what we have, that we keep our office because it is helping our economy.

Exports and foreign investments are major components of job creation and economic development in Pennsylvania. So I want to continue to make that case to whoever it may be in the future. I want to make sure that people continue to realize that this is an important priority. It should be much bigger than it is now. Our overall state budget is about $28 billion I believe, and our international budget is only $5.8 million.

A big priority is to work with universities and colleges. We have started working with universities and colleges over the last three years and have a specialty that we started last year in India. We call it the India Higher Education Initiative. We have a person that we hired in India, in Mumbai, who is responsible for promoting our universities and colleges. That is basically the mission. And the result, we hope, is that we will get more Indian students to Pennsylvania’s universities and colleges.

How is the Global Philadelphia Association being used as a tool for the international community?

I think it really shows that the Greater Philadelphia area has really come together. Various organizations and agencies all come together and realize that Philadelphia needs to be more proactive to position itself as a global city. We all agree that Philadelphia is a global city already for a number of reasons but it needs to be much more proactive and aggressive.

I think Global Philadelphia has really helped bring everybody around the table, the city, chambers of commerce and the World Trade Center. We need to all work together, all look in the same direction to make sure that Philadelphia becomes more successful globally and becomes a reference around the world.

Image courtesy of Taiwan Outlook.