Colorado and France are natural economic development partners

The French-American Chamber of Commerce (FACC) is continuing to make itself known around Colorado as an increasingly active international organization. Part of a global network of French chambers, the Rocky Mountain chapter is led by three women: Executive Director Virginie Ganivet, and her assistants, Sara Squires, and the author of this column, who are helping to put Colorado on the map in the eyes of the French business world.

Some may consider Colorado/France relations to be an unlikely match, but believe it or not, French majority-owned companies with operations in the Rocky Mountain region rank fourth among foreign-owned companies in terms of number of employees. In the past year alone, the total dollar amount of our state’s exports to France increased from $9 million to $10.4 million, according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

This makes France the 17th biggest recipient of Colorado exports. And, in addition to the FACC, Denver has more than one French immersion school, a very active Adult French Language and Cultural Center and an Honorary Consul of France. Mais oui, France has an active presence in our state!

A forward-thinking initiative

In order to grow and thrive, especially in this economy, companies need to actively pursue new avenues of expansion. With this motivation in mind, the FACC started an initiative to focus its cross-border efforts on one particular and strategic region in France: the Rhône-Alpes. The Colorado Rhône-Alpes Economic Development Partnership (CORA) has continued to grow since its inception in January 2009.

CORA partners in both regions include industry associations, businesses interested in international expansion, research organizations and professional service firms, among others. Their goal is to facilitate cross-border business and research collaborations.

The similarities between the two regions made for an obvious partnership:

• Remarkable symmetries exist in major business and research sectors, lifestyles, geography, size, population and demographics.
• Colorado is near the geographic center of the U.S., and the Rhône-Alpes region is at the crossroads between Italy, Spain and France.
• Excellent road, rail and air transport provide ready access to major markets.
• Priority sectors in common include: renewable energy, IT/software, bioscience, nanotechnology research and micro/nano-electronics.
• Colorado is the top recipient of U.S. federal research funds, and the Rhône-Alpes is second only to Paris in the amount of French research funds received.

Increasing awareness of the opportunities for cross-border collaborations and investment is the key to economic growth between these two regions. Rhône-Alpes is one of Europe’s largest regional economies, and Colorado is highly competitive within the U.S., especially in science and technology assets.

“We are doing something unique. No other chamber of commerce, to our knowledge, has targeted a specific region of another country,” says Bob Snyder, president of the FACC and co-initiator of CORA. “By doing this, we can seek out specific companies and organizations where we see beneficial connections.”

Major successes

CORA already has led multiple trade missions and meetings between businessmen and women in both regions, and people are starting to take notice. Personal relationships, established over several visits to France, are an integral part CORA’s success.

Most recently, CORA arranged a meeting between Claude Graff of Schneider Electric France and Dr. Dan Arvizu of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to discuss possibilities for research collaborations. As discussions are still under way, we can only comment that the future looks bright for this pairing.

Both of these men will be the guests of honor at the upcoming L’Esprit de France Gala on May 14 in Denver. Proceeds from this fundraiser allow the FACC and CORA to continue to develop cross-border partnerships. Guests will be treated to a gourmet five-course meal paired with French wines. In addition, Dr. Arvizu and Mr. Graff will be presented with awards for Outstanding Contributions to French-American Business and Research Collaborations.

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