Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

Economic development professionals, investors, government and business leaders, and marketing executives from around the globe traveled “Down Under” in mid-June for the 2019 World Forum for Foreign Direct Investment.

The three-day conference was held in Sydney, the capital of Australia’s southeastern state of New South Wales (NSW); the host sponsor was the government of NSW. It was put on by Conway, a global public relations and marketing firm that boasts of an extensive international network of media, site consultant and corporate real estate contacts.

The Conway group coordinates the Economic Development Alliance’s national and international digital (Internet) marketing campaign for Jefferson County. That connection is one of the reasons Alliance President Lou Ann Nisbett was among the 400 people in attendance at this year’s forum.

While moving among the conference sessions and networking opportunities, Nisbett said she never saw another person from Arkansas. But the world was definitely represented. Although she did read a few North American nametags during individual exchanges, most participants were from European, Asian or African nations — or from the host country itself.

“I’ve never been in a room with so many people from so many other countries,” she said in discussing the event later. “It was very global indeed. And the more I spoke with other attendees, the more pride I felt for what we’re doing collectively here in Jefferson County,” she said.

“Quite a few participants appeared to be on the look-out for potential investors to help with their projects or were just starting out in community development. And I couldn’t help but think of all the infrastructure we have in place and all the improvement initiatives we have underway,” Nisbett explained.

Even though the individual conversations tended to be about the present, the conference sessions were mostly focused on the future.

That included projections about the changing global workforce (an estimated 35% of employees will work remotely from home by 2025, and Millennials will make up 70% of the workforce); an emerging new era of partnerships between industry and education (including virtual reality training); the reshaping of traditional workplaces by automation; and expanding universal money systems (think cryptocurrency) that will finance worldwide trade and development.

But it was also made clear that work ethics will always be important.

Nisbett said the conference helped her better understand the correlation between political climates globally and worldwide investing, and how they can eventually affect projects proposed for small-town Arkansas. Consensus among the experts seemed to be that foreign direct investment has slowed somewhat as global investors await results of election cycles in major world economies, she learned.

Since she has no plans to make that trip again, Nisbett vacationed for a few days after the forum ended. She took in some of the iconic sights of the country that’s the smallest continent but is still about the same size as the continental United States. Sydney in the south was experiencing its cold winter season, but Nisbett also traveled to Cairns, in the tropical (warm winter) northeastern state of Queensland, considered the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and home to scenic beaches. (And, yes, she did see “mobs” of kangaroos and other exotic creatures.)