Knowledge Center

Banking on KC – Matthew Hughes

 

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Matthew Hughes, the executive director of the International Relations Council. Welcome, Matthew.

Matthew Hughes:

Kelly, thanks so much for having me today.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about the work of the IRC. From what I understand, it's primarily educational. In what sense is it educational?

Matthew Hughes:

Our mission at the organization is to strengthen our community's global perspective, so we talk about what's going on around the world, how it connects to our community here. Over the course of time, since 1955, when we brought in Eleanor Roosevelt as our first speaker, that's looked like journalists, professors, diplomats, visiting our community, sharing their expertise, but we also have discussion groups and we have student programs as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

Eleanor Roosevelt, wow. Yeah, that was a great way to start off. Who would've thought? When you talk about education, I'm assuming it's two-way. You are probably trying to bring a global perspective to Kansas City so that our residents and our businesses understand what's going on in the world and how it may impact them. But also the reverse would be true, to show the rest of the world some of the international things that are going on in Kansas City.

Matthew Hughes:

We are fortunate to have a fabulous ecosystem of international organizations in our community that do just what you're talking about. Kansas City is connected to more than a dozen cities around the world through the Sister Cities program. Global Ties Kansas City brings in delegations from around the world to see how we do things in Kansas City and take that learning back with them to their home countries. We have a number of organizations like the World Trade Center who help businesses do business abroad. They give them the nuts and bolts understanding the need around how to do international trade. So, we are very fortunate to have those colleagues and friends working with our community in different ways.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about some of the ways in which you're trying to showcase Kansas City internationally.

Matthew Hughes:

Really, we try to lean into the interests of people who are already in our community. People have global stories, whether they realize it or not, whether that is that somebody in their family immigrated to this country, whether it was recently or a while ago, and they may do business internationally. They may have studied something that's related to the world. They may just have an interest in the world, and so we do what we can to tap into that existing interest and then push out people's global horizons through the different programs that we offer.

Kelly Scanlon:

Do you have to be a member of the IRC in order to take advantage of your programs?

Matthew Hughes:

You don't. Most of our programs are free and open to the public, and many of them have gone online because of the pandemic, so we are continuing to offer a robust set of online programs as well as in-person programs. We recently had the Colombian ambassador to the US visiting us in Kansas City, talking about 200 years of bilateral relations between the US and Colombia. We had the Paraguayan ambassador. Not long before that, we had the former British ambassador to China. So, a whole range of different individuals visiting us here.

Matthew Hughes:

But we do have member-only opportunities as well. One of those is our set of IRC roundtables. These focus on different regions of the world, and people can come together, meet other IRC members with a shared interest in that part of the world, talk about what's happening in that part of the world, and then help us to shape IRC programming dealing with that part of the world.

Kelly Scanlon:

I hear that you have discussion groups as well. Talk to us about those.

Matthew Hughes:

That's right. For a long time, our programming was primarily sort of lectures and panels, and we certainly still do those. Eleanor Roosevelt was in that format. We had a visit from Henry Kissinger back in the '70s when he was the sitting secretary of state, which was fascinating, I'm sure, for people who were in the room then. But we also know that people bring a lot of global experience with them to these discussions, and so we try to hold a seat at the table for as many different voices as we can. We have a film club, we have a couple different book clubs, so we use the arts as a lens through which to explore global realities. We have the roundtables. We have a news discussion group as well. And so, a whole range of different ways for people to meet others in Kansas City who are interested in the world and share their own perspectives and expertise.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are some of the ways that businesses are raising our international profile?

Matthew Hughes:

It's really amazing when you meet people who are importing or exporting or have satellite offices in other countries. We have a number of businesses in Kansas City who are headquartered in other countries, but have satellite offices here. There's a whole network and a whole community of businesses working around the world.

Matthew Hughes:

One of the most interesting things that I think that's happening right now in our community is the preparation of the new airport. We're excited to see it launch next year, and I think that's really going to raise the profile of Kansas City on the world stage. In so many ways, that is the front door to our community, whether it's for freight and cargo, whether it is for visitors or for visiting business folks. And so, I think that having that is a real sign of the times for us in Kansas City.

Matthew Hughes:

I heard a statistic once that 95% of the world's population lives outside of the United States, which means that 95% of the world's consumer base is outside of the United States. So, if you take that down to the Kansas City level, it means that yes, we have a fabulous market for so many different businesses and companies here in Kansas City, but it really takes global thinking to stretch outside of Kansas City, to stretch outside of the United States, and figure out what sort of opportunities are out there. Whether it is Cerner or Hallmark, Burns & McDonnell, Black & Veatch, in so many different ways, companies around the area are doing business internationally. And those benefits come back here in our community as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right, and you mentioned Cerner and some of the big corporations, but what a lot of people don't realize is that small businesses, in aggregate, they make up the largest exporting group in the United States. And Kansas City is full of small businesses, so it's important to point out that there are opportunities for the smaller businesses as well internationally.

Matthew Hughes:

That's right. And the World Trade Center in Kansas City has a fantastic program called the Export Concierge Program, which works with those businesses that you're talking about to help them figure out how to get their products outside of the United States, and really holds their hand through the process. It can be so daunting for people who are new to that sort of idea, but really to have someone hold your hand through the processes is really supportive.

Kelly Scanlon:

Besides the events that you talked about and the programming that you provide, you also have really a multitude of resources on your website for not just businesses, but for the general public as well. Walk us through some of those and why they might be of interest to our listeners.

Matthew Hughes:

Absolutely. Especially if you're just getting familiar with the International Relations Council, you might want to check out our YouTube channel. There, you can find a number of recorded programs where you can get a sense of the work that we do, a sense of the conversations we have going on. But to your point, Kelly, some of the resources are really aimed at educators and students. We have a long history of working with students in the area. We have a college and career fair called Your Global Future that we put on every fall that invites high school students to come together to explore international, academic, and professional opportunities after high school. So, we want every student to walk into that room and have at least one aha moment about how global their future can be.

Matthew Hughes:

And for all of us, if we think back to what maybe raised our awareness of the world, it came down to some sort of exposure opportunity, some sort of first time, meeting somebody from another country or trying a new food or something like that. So, we try to put that together for the students and give them the same opportunities to figure out what they can be doing in the world as they get older. We're also part of a national network called the World Affairs Councils of America. That's 90 councils in 40 states doing similar work to the work that we do here in Kansas City. So, they're a fabulous resource as well as you're looking to get more plugged into the world from wherever you are.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are some of the things happening right now that the IRC is especially focused on that are impacting people in Kansas City?

Matthew Hughes:

The IRC is an apolitical nonpartisan educational non-profit organization on purpose. We really do want to consider the world as a whole. There are so many different events happening that are really impacting one another.

Matthew Hughes:

Refugee situations in the Middle East, for example, continue to exist. They're continuing to happen. What's happening with the Uighur population, for example, in China, what's happening in Myanmar, Burma, what's happening in Venezuela, there's a lot going on around the world that deserves to be focused on as well. So, we actually have a series that we've started called The What's Happening series that looks to keep the pilot light on, if you will, for some of these different news stories that may have fallen out of the news cycle. We've had some recently on Syria, on Ethiopia, on Venezuela, on the South China Sea, and we invite people to check those out on our website.

Matthew Hughes:

People might be surprised to know just the number of refugee resettlement agencies we have in Kansas City, for example, receiving people from around the world who are displaced because of conflict zones and other challenges. We followed last year what was happening in Afghanistan. Kansas City has started receiving refugees from Afghanistan who were displaced by what was going on there with the reemergence of the Taliban. And several years ago, Kansas City was actually the first community in the United States to receive refugees from Syria who were displaced by the conflict there. These events around the world really do impact our community. They impact our neighbors. If you drive along Independence Avenue, you find a mini United Nations of individuals from around the world who have made their home in Kansas City, and it's amazing what a welcoming community Kansas City continues to be.

Kelly Scanlon:

Do you actually travel? Do you take contingents from Kansas City outside of our area so that people can get a chance to meet Kansas Citians and Kansas City businesses?

Matthew Hughes:

It's a great question, and certainly I love to travel. It's a personal interest and passion of mine, and I go abroad just as often as I can. Really, we're a Kansas City organization, so most of our work is here. But through that World Affairs Council's network, we're fortunate to have partnerships with different councils around the country who do send individuals abroad for a variety of reasons, and we certainly welcome people's interest in that. So, people would be welcome to get in touch with us, and then we can put them in touch with those other councils, and there are other organizations in Kansas City who do those trade missions and things like that, especially for businesses as well. So, if anybody has any questions, we're happy to serve as the operator of sorts and redirect to other organizations that might be up their alley.

Kelly Scanlon:

How has the development of downtown Kansas City and some of the cultural centers, for example, I'm using cultural centers in a different way than you are. But things like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, how are those raising our international profile?

Matthew Hughes:

Oh, my gosh. When you look at, for example, the Kauffman Center, when you look at some of the other buildings that are being placed in Kansas City, these are world-class institutions. These are world-class facilities that they're building, and it's getting noticed. I recently had a friend visiting from Australia, which of course is known for its Sydney Opera House. He couldn't believe the quality of the Kauffman Center in Kansas City, which some people here say looks sort of like the Sydney Opera House. It's amazing what that sort of thoughtfulness can do and what it means to bring the community together, to consider not just how our community stays together and how we develop these cultural opportunities, but how that attracts talent from around the world.

Matthew Hughes:

For example, Folk Alliance International is a Kansas City-based international nonprofit organization that works with folk musicians around the world. And just recently, they had their annual conference at the Westin Crown Center, and I had the privilege of attending and seeing acts from Canada and Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was amazing, right, to see the musicians who were visiting and to hear what they were saying about how they couldn't believe what a quality place Kansas City was and how they couldn't wait to come back. I think that those sorts of opportunities, the facilities as well as the conferences, the conventions I know that visit KC, and the sports commission are working hard on getting the World Cup to Kansas City in a few years. What will it mean next year to have the NFL draft here? All of these are opportunities that really raise the profile of Kansas City on a national level, as well as an international level.

Kelly Scanlon:

As Kansas City's international profile continues to climb, what do you think it's going to take to sustain that?

Matthew Hughes:

I think it has to start with awareness and willingness. I think that people in Kansas City, our community, has to be aware of what's happening around the world and of why these things matter because if we're not aware, we're not going to pursue it. I think it takes a sustained thoughtfulness as well, right? It takes intentionality to say that this is something that we're going to prioritize. We're going to prioritize it across the different initiatives that we're doing as a community, and considering how those initiatives benefit not just the people who are here, but the tourists who will come in, the business opportunities, right? The individuals and organizations who may see Kansas City as a new home, for example, right? That they're going to plant a business here. We just heard about the Facebook, or I guess now Meta Data Center that's going to be opening up in Kansas City. All of these things are happening because of how intentionally the community has been approaching what development looks like.

Matthew Hughes:

It makes a difference for us to be accessible as well, right? So, to have resources in different languages for those visitors who are going to be coming in, to continue to focus on what tourism looks like, to continue to focus on what international students look like, to encourage our universities to continue to bring international students in, to encourage Fort Leavenworth to continue to have officers from other countries attending their classes. All of these are strengthening people-to-people connections, organization-to-organization connections, government-to-government connections, that in the long run make a more peaceful world, make a more understanding world, make a world that's more conducive to business relationships, and all sorts of other advantages.

Kelly Scanlon:

Matthew, you've really opened our eyes to the resources that the IRC has. For people who are interested in global relations and for businesses that want to learn how to do business internationally, where would they go in order to access those?

Matthew Hughes:

We encourage everyone to visit our website at irckc.org. There, you can find our events calendar that has upcoming IRC events, as well as other international opportunities in our community. Our newsletter that goes out also has that information that lands in your inbox every week, so do consider signing up for that. You'll see some other great resources on the website as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

Matthew, thank you so much for being our guest today and creating awareness of all that is going on around us and how you're helping to connect everyone to that information. Really appreciate it.

Matthew Hughes:

Kelly, thank you, and thanks to Country Club Bank.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Matthew Hughes for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC.

Joe Close:

The Kansas City Metro area may be landlocked, but its international reputation is growing. Straddling two states, we are home to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and a thriving arts scene. Corporations like Cerner and Garmin are known globally, but smaller businesses too are making a mark on the world with advances in stadium architecture, biometrics, and other industries. The Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth offers graduate-level training for international military officers, and Kansas City's population is becoming increasingly diverse. But as Matthew points out, perhaps the most important benchmark for measuring our international standing as a community is our willingness to embrace a global perspective, a mindset that is open to new ideas, issues, and solutions. When we can do that, we strengthen our connections to others around the world and here at home.

Joe Close:

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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