Stephan Helgesen, Honorary German Consul in New Mexico and former director of the state's Office of Science and Technology, spoke recently at the International Task Force luncheon.
Helgesen spent years in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps as a Foreign Commercial Service officer with the U.S. Department of Commerce. He's worked in American Embassies and Consulates overseas assisting U.S. companies find partners and increase sales abroad.
Helgesen's presentation, "How International Are We?" was a critical look at the university's and state's "international quotient." The benchmarks for the "IQ," are being part of an ethnic group that still observes traditions; speaking more than one language; having studied other cultures; and finally, being a member of international organizations.
"Having an open mind, tolerance and curiosity raises the IQ," he said.
New Mexico has many things going for it, he said. The state is multi-ethnic, English and Spanish are both spoken here, we celebrate ethnic diversity and promote membership in international organizations, he said.
High IQ states have thriving international programs at local universities. "Does the state encourage participation in religious and other missions to foreign countries?" Helgesen asked. That, and being home to foreign companies and home to thousands of military who have served overseas raise the International Quotient, he said.
He said that New Mexico lacks a critical mass to reach the next level. "There aren't enough workers, investments, educational and other opportunities that promote internationalization," he said.
Helgesen said there's a divide between education and business. Educating business students to work in the international arena helps bridge that divide. "We must extend the reach beyond grasp to civic leaders," he said, adding that city planning has a role to play in internationalizing a community.
"And we cannot depend on state government to fund it," he said.
Helgesen said that New Mexico is "domestically foreign." "This is an advantage to businesses that don't take New Mexico's diversity for granted," he said.
He noted that many people in the United States complain about the country's investment in foreign aid simply because they don't understand foreign anything.
New Mexico has a 9 percent foreign born population (legal immigrants). "The national average is 12.9 percent," he said.
To raise the IQ, business need to be offered competitive relocation packages. From a university perspective, higher education needs to work with vocational schools to create "business relevant curricula for students," he said. "Universities must protect their international and foreign language programs," he said.
Economic development organizations "sell" New Mexico abroad. "International tourism is a thriving industry around events like the balloon fiesta and the Gathering of Nations," he said.
He charges the Bureau of Business and Economic Research to conduct an impact analysis of what being international means to the business community. "As a state, we cannot afford to lose international business or tourism," Helgesen said.
"The other IQ we need to raise," he said, "is the ‘Interest Quotient' among decision-makers in the state, sensitizing them to the financial impact of international business, tourism and students on our community," he said.
Helgesen closed by saying that New Mexico needs to establish a World Trade Center. "We need foreign investment," he said.
Helgesen maintains The New Mexican Voice, an online news and opinion site.