Upstate International: Celebrating the Diverse Businesses and Cultures


March 01, 2014
Drive anywhere throughout the Upstate this March and you’re likely to see the banners, flags, and billboards for Upstate International. Visit an area hotel, convention bureau, or chamber of commerce, and you’ll probably find Upstate International brochures. Google “international” from the Upstate area and you’re liable to find the Upstate International website at the top of your search results.

Upstate International is making a lot of noise in the Upstate. So what’s all the hubbub about? An initiative of The International Center of the Upstate, it is a month-long celebration of all things international. It is designed to highlight throughout the month of March the Upstate’s international connections and rich cultural diversity.

Rather than being a single event, Upstate International is a series of events throughout all 10 counties of the Upstate, staged in multiple communities and venues throughout the region.

In its inaugural year, Upstate International fostered close to 100 internationally themed activities, programs, and events. These events showcased the Upstate’s diverse mix of international cultures, educated community members, and facilitated the growth of international business. This year promises to be even more robust with more communities involved, more K through 12 engagement, and more free events.

Adding more free events was especially important to Upstate International organizers. “Looking at the calendar last year many of our events were ticketed. But we really wanted to grow so that we could offer many, many free events that are open to the public because that’s what we’re all about,” said Whitney Walters, Executive Director of the International Center of the Upstate.

A Collaborative Effort

Upstate International grew out of collaboration between Clemson University and Michelin that started in 2011, according to Constancio Nakuma, Co-chair of the Upstate International Steering Committee. Nakuma, who is an Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Clemson, wanted to organize an international event. He approached Michelin first and the two organizations then reached out to others who were interested in helping.

“The idea [for Upstate International] didn’t just come from a meeting or two. We had a yearlong series of meetings before we finally settled on a month long celebration,” said Nakuma. “What we realized was that we needed more than a single event. It would have a greater impact if we coordinated other people’s events. We were going to achieve more that way.”

Those initial meetings spawned the Upstate International Steering Committee that now includes over 20 members who come from very diverse backgrounds.

“As someone who’s involved in the steering committee, one of the things that’s really impressive to me is the level of strong collaboration across so many different organizations,” said Nika White, Vice President of Diversity at the Greenville Chamber. “It’s from the educational sector to the business sector and from the non-profit sector to concerned citizens who want this effort to be successful. It's really been a great show of support and I think that's what's going to help Upstate International be set apart from other community-wide efforts that take place in the Upstate. That's been really remarkable.”

White went on to say why the Chamber became involved with Upstate International. “It's really important to The Chamber that we are engaging in a very meaningful way all types of citizens that are a part of our community. Outside of our building we have all of these international flags. And it really is to say that we're very inclusive and we desire to make sure that all of those that are part of our community feel welcomed.

“We desire to be a city that's very prosperous. It requires us giving some effort and time to ensure that we're putting forth different opportunities for different international citizens to become a part of this community” said White.

The collaborative effort behind Upstate International includes not just members of the steering committee, but also sponsors. Two key supporters of Upstate International are Michelin, (presenting sponsor) and Clemson (platinum sponsor). Nakuma elaborated on Clemson’s involvement, which centers on enriching its students’ educational environments. “We promote studying abroad very strongly, but not everyone has the money to go abroad,” said Nakuma. “But if we have a rich international environment right at their front door, we'll be accomplishing the same or almost the same results.”

The International Center of the Upstate also plays a key role in Upstate International. “Quite simply Upstate International is right now a program or an endeavor of the International Center. It's planning and processes are run through us as a non-profit,” said Walters. Additionally, several International Center board members play key roles in Upstate International.

Business Impact

Upstate International impacts area businesses both directly and indirectly. For example, the Upstate of South Carolina has the largest foreign investment per capita of any area in the United States, according to the Carolina Center for Foreign Investment. This means that international employers in the Upstate and their employees are finding it more important than ever to understand how people’s preferences, beliefs, and values differ across cultures.

“We need to make sure that this area is welcoming of all international citizens who come here to work and contribute back to the economy,” said White. Upstate International strives to help reinforce the Upstate’s position as one of the country’s most highly desirable locations to live, work, and invest.

An example of the direct impact of Upstate International can be found in Greer where they will be holding their inaugural International Festival on March 29. According to Red Watson, Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation for Greer, the festival will have a direct impact on Greer’s businesses. “As it’s related to tourism, anytime you bring someone into Greer from outside of Greer they’re likely to get gas in Greer, or stop and eat at a restaurant in Greer, or stop and do grocery shopping on their way out of Greer,” said Watson. “Anytime we can offer an event where people are going to come into the city, it impacts and helps all the businesses in the city.”

Events

Upstate International’s events are too numerous to list here. However, you can go to www.upstateinternational.org to find a complete, searchable list of events.

New events are being added almost every day, but five you may want to pay particular attention to are:
· Opening Night Event 2014 – Enjoy a seated dinner with an international food court featuring stations with authentic cuisine from all over the globe on March 1. Also includes a multicultural fashion show and cultural dances from around the world.
· Ringing of the Bells ­­– Bells will ring across the Upstate to celebrate the launch of Upstate International Month at 12:00 noon on March 1.
· CU-ICAR Millennium Drive –This event celebrates both the past and future of transportation around the world on March 22. Come see international cars cruise up and down CU-ICAR’s Millennium Boulevard. There will also be live entertainment and food from around the world.
· Greenville Chamber of Commerce: 22nd Annual International Event – This event on March 25 will celebrate the 12th International Economic Development Award. All international companies and those that are owned by a parent company outside of the US will be provided two complimentary registrations to attend.
· The City of Greer International Festival: Greer Goes Global – The festival will be held on March 29 and will be free to the public. Entertainment (dancing, singing, etc.), children’s crafts and inflatables, visual arts, and sports demonstrations will be offered. All festival activities, events and entertainment will be produced and influenced by the variety of cultures in and around the Greer area.

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