If a Baltimore entrepreneur unschooled in international business wants to sell hair oil in the Bahamas, where does he or she start?
Likewise, suppose an Argentine leather goods company wants to develop a market for handbags in this country. Whom does it call?
Rudy Lewis, director of the Global Cities Project and an Owings Mills businessman, thinks he has an answer.
Mr. Lewis is attempting to assemble a national network of international traders and distributors that he hopes will be able to provide a ready supply of names and numbers for manufacturers looking to do global business.
Mr. Lewis' firm charges a fee to train people how to ruinternational trade and distributor businesses. So far, 26 international traders have completed the program.
African-Americans would make up the bulk of the network's traders and distributors in this country. But anybody can plug into the network.
"We're not racist, Mr. Lewis observed. "That doesn't make sense. It is not economic."
Mr. Lewis is touting his ideas in a series of seminars and lectures this week in Baltimore.
This is the first of 15 cities that Mr. Lewis plans to cultivate for the Global Cities Network.
The idea of the business is to connect U.S. cities that have large African-American populations and market them to the world as a combined, single market.
Mr. Lewis believes that America's black consumer market -estimated to total as much as $300 billion a year -- would be an attractive lure to foreign manufacturers.
The network, he said, would be able to guarantee a manufacturer that his product would receive wide circulation.
Likewise, Mr. Lewis envisions the network creating international trading opportunities for black entrepreneurs interested in getting involved in import/export and distributorships.
Those opportunities would allow members of the network to control the distribution of a product, since Global Cities members sign only exclusive distribution deals with manufacturers.
Mr. Lewis said that there are ripe trading opportunities, especially with Third World countries in Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
"[Blacks] are not even in the international trade game," Mr. Lewis said.
"What we are talking about is integrating our people into the regular system of international trade."
Joseph R. Curry, a vice counsel from the Bahamian Embassy, was among a dozen people who participated in a session held yesterday at the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
"This network should help create the forums and opportunities need for them to overcome the fear of doing business outside the country," Mr. Curry said.
Cynthia A. Browser, an international trader with Global Cities, already is moving eyeglass frames made in Africa and leather products made it South America.
"This is something I got into as soon as I heard about it," she said. "I knew the market was there."