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Oxnard Center Wants the World at Its Doorstep

November 17, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

There's one in New York, Paris and Port Said. And by the turn of the century, there will be one in Oxnard.

Until Oxnard's World Trade Center Assn. gets its own building, however, the city's formal link with global commerce will occupy two cramped, windowless rooms in the Union Bank Tower. Association boosters, who acknowledge that the accommodations bear little resemblance to their eventual headquarters in a 24-story building in the planned Town Center project, will gather Tuesday to toast their new interim quarters.

The office is the first space that the organization, which last month moved out of an office it was sharing with the Ventura County Economic Development Assn., has had to itself.

"It gives us some credibility," said Ed Robings, the recently retired president of Oxnard College who was named the association's executive director last month.

Drumming Up Interest

The fledgling association, composed of 37 local business people, is trying to drum up interest in international trade before ground is broken for the high-rise, from which area importers and exporters will be linked to world markets via satellite.

Those links will ease trade between members of Oxnard's World Trade Center and 140 counterpart organizations in 50 countries. Seventy world trade centers are operating, 18 are under construction and the rest, including Oxnard's, are on the drawing boards. A limited partnership that includes the Irvine-based Warmington Co. and the M. J. Raynes Co. of New York will build the structure in 5 to 10 years, as soon as it thinks it can lease the space, Town Center Director Ronald Roberts said.

Under one roof will be gathered most of the services required by international businesses--from travel agents, attorneys and international bankers to customs offices, consulates and departments of trades, Robings said.

Trade Seminars

The association has primed the pump over the last 18 months through a series of how-to seminars designed to interest local businesses in international trade.

The talks have covered such topics as how to do business in China, what is hot in the exports market to Taiwan and what government assistance is available to small businesses seeking to branch out into international markets. The next seminar, scheduled for Dec. 7, will address doing business in Canada.

Most of the lunchtime seminars, held at local hotels for a fee of $22 a person, have played to a full house.

"They've developed a pretty loyal audience," said one of the association's members, John Chase, director of the Private Industry Council of Ventura County.

"If you're a company used to dealing more in local markets, there is almost a complete absence of information on how to break into international markets," Chase said.

"People don't know how to start--how much energy or commitment it's going to take, and it takes a great deal," he said. "IBM or General Motors knows, but everyone else has no idea."

Once local businesses "dip their toes into this and find that international trade is profitable," Robings said, he hopes they will become involved in it and consider moving into Oxnard's World Trade Center.

Informal Meetings

The gatherings, which draw 20 to 40 people, are informal meeting grounds for business people seeking to trade abroad.

At a seminar last month in a Westlake Village hotel, for instance, travel agents, bankers and an architect hoping to drum up business with people involved in international trade rubbed shoulders with a Westlake Village manufacturer who exports oil refinery equipment and the marketing director of a Los Angeles medical technology firm that plans to begin exporting cosmetics.

The talk was heady, with a Wharton School of Business professor expounding on what he views as the lack of entrepreneurial drive in American businesses. The audience nodded knowingly as Edward M. Moldt, the managing director of the school's Sol C. Snider Entrepreneurial Center, told them that American managers behave "like Prussian generals," erecting bureaucracies instead of adapting constructively to change.

Although Moldt touched only peripherally on international trade--he said American business has only "a 2-year window of opportunity" before Japan wins the trade war--the event received only praise.

Sharon Christopherson, an officer with Ventura County National Bank, said she met several potential clients. And Christopher Patterson, a Thousand Oaks business attorney who is forming a company that will export pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to Hong Kong and China, met several people who might help market the products.

"It brought together people that you just don't meet in casual circles," Patterson said.

Bringing together people who would not normally meet is the goal of the World Trade Centers Assn., a worldwide network. The association was founded in New Orleans in 1968 by business people impressed with New York's World Trade Center, which was then under construction.

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