RALEIGH – Most mid-size regions in the United States struggle to be visible or understood in the global marketplace.

But the Research Triangle is the exception, says Marek Gootman, a fellow and director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

“This area is very lucky to already have a recognizable global identity,” he told WRAL TechWire.

“It also has distinctive globally-competitive assets and specializations, which are the foundation for any international effort.”

On Thursday, Gootman visited the Oak City to appear as the keynote speaker at the Raleigh Chamber’s The State of Foreign Investment event.

Marek Gootman, a fellow and director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

More than 100 people packed into the Brier Creek Country Club to hear Gootman speak on how local companies can position themselves to compete and grow on a global scale.

In 2018 alone, foreign-owned firms invested $235 million in the Triangle, creating nearly 600 jobs. Statewide, foreign-owned firms employ more than 250,000 North Carolinians and contributed more than $14 billion to the economy in the last 11 years, according to the Chamber.

“Foreign direct investment is a critical priority in our economic development strategy,” Michael Haley, Wake County Economic Development’s executive director said.

Today, we heard from [Gootman] reinforce the importance of investing time in an international business strategy and the importance of being global ambassadors for the Research Triangle.”

Volatile and uncertain environment

However, Gootman also conceded the current environment is “unusually volatile and uncertain” in light of the current trade wars with China.

Despite these “negative tradewinds,” it’s important to stay committed to sustained global engagement, he said.

“Within the existing framework, about 40 percent of all global GDP is now attributable to cross-border flows of goods, services, and capital,” he said.

“We are not going to reverse these trends, and eventually the politics will be resolved.”

To remain competitive and grow, regions and firms must stay focused on how to take advantage of global opportunities.

“Or else they will be taken advantage of,” he said.

As for North Carolina, the exposure varies by its regional economies, he said, hitting commodities like agriculture more than innovation sectors in tech and life sciences.

Regardless, the region must make global “a more core part of mainstream economic development practice.”

“That can maximize the impact of limited resources — fill gaps, eliminate redundancies, and focus on optimal returns,” he said.

“Economic developers can apply some new tools that help prioritize markets with the most potential for your sectors, enlist non-traditional ‘brand ambassadors’ among business leaders, leverage university connections, and link export and FDI promotion efforts as mutually reinforcing.”

Kane, Malik make case for stadium as stimulus to development south of downtown Raleigh

Wake commissioner: $1.9B soccer development project would produce 6,000 jobs