For Release Friday, November 30, 2012
The national debate on immigration and policy decisions to be made will have effects ranging from Microsoft’s ability to recruit talent to apple farmers’ ability to harvest their fruit; from uniting families to international students’ options for seeking a U.S. education.
The Puget Sound region and Washington State depend on international business and the relationships that support our success. Our diverse communities not only provide the cultural and language skills to interact with the world, but add to the richness here in our community.
The Puget Sound Business Journal reported Nov. 5 that King County’s multiracial growth was second in the United States over the past 12 months, exceeded only by Los Angeles. Bellevue is more than 30 percent foreign-born, and Seattle 25 percent. Whether you are a newspaper, theater company, medical provider or retailer, to be successful you must understand the Puget Sound’s changing demographics. ACT Theatre’s development of Ramayana represents their understanding that more than 60,000 people of Indian heritage live in this area.
Exploring our neighborhoods provides a portrait of the people who help our success, economically and culturally, and the Korean community is an example of our expanding diversity. A drive along Aurora Avenue in Shoreline would make you think you were visiting Seattle’s sister city, Daejeon, Korea. Regionally, our Korean American community is more than 60,000 strong and owns more than 3,000 businesses.
The new Korean Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Korea will prompt even stronger business, maritime and air relations between our two countries. As HistoryLink noted, “Korean Americans may be our least visible Asian American ethnic community. Yet this fast-growing population may also be one of the Puget Sound’s most resourceful, energetic, and culturally rich immigrant groups.”
Korean business is not just concentrated in a few neighborhoods. Magnolia, for example, has a Korean-managed cleaning business and an excellent restaurant that serves Japanese and Chinese food. There is a Korean grocers association because of the significant number of small grocery stores. The region has numerous Korean churches, and a wealth of organizations, including a Korean-American Chamber of Commerce and a Korean America Association.
South Korea is one of our country’s major business partners. It represents our seventh largest trade partner and second biggest export customer for services, according to a presentation by the Korean Embassy’s minister of the economy, Gheewhan Kim. Korea generates the third highest number of foreign students and is our eighth largest source of visitors. The trade balance is roughly equal. The new free trade agreement will strongly enhance this relationship as the duty on U.S. farm products, including wine, decreases.
Our ports are a major gateway for both Korean shipping lines, and Sea-Tac International Airport is a gateway for both Asiana and Korean airlines. Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau contracted with Seoul based Connect-Worldwide (CWW South Korea) to promote Seattle and Washington State as the destination’s first representative tourism office in South Korea. Investment is flowing into the United States at a much greater rate than we are investing in Korea.
Korea represents a major source of international students for our state. These students are important for many reasons. They give our students a chance to meet people from other cultures, important to many careers. International students pay full tuition. Some remain in our area, feeding our talent pool and providing expertise in doing business in their country. Most return home, adding to the pool of those who feel fondly about our area. A study mission to Korea organized by the Trade Alliance of Greater Seattle and Seattle Chamber had a reception in Seoul a few years ago with the University of Washington Alumni Association, and among the attendees were a father and son who traveled more than 100 miles to the event. They said when they opened their firm’s first American presence, they chose Bellevue – since they were both Huskies.
The University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies has a Center of Korean Studies. The library began a Korean collection as a result of World War II and the donation of the books to educate soldiers for Korean service. It’s now the second largest in the United States. The Korean language program is part of one of the nation’s best Asian language programs. UW students can study abroad in a number of Korean universities.
The Korean chamber and the Korean American Association are reaching out to the broader community. Korean events such as the Harvest festival at Seattle Center and the music program at UW are exposing the culture and community to the broader community.
Puget Sound’s Korean community is becoming more visible and contributing to our economy and cultural richness. While this ethnic community is one of many here, it’s an example of why an intelligent immigration policy for the country will help our nation succeed. In a global economy, international relationships and understanding are critical.
Bill Stafford, a member of the Citistates Group, was president of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle for 20 years. Before that he held several senior positions in Seattle city government. A version of this article was first published on Crosscut.com, a Seattle-based not-for-profit publisher of daily Northwest news.
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