Last month I returned from a trade mission to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on behalf of Enliven and the St. Louis Asian American Chamber of Commerce (AACC). This trip was an exciting opportunity to further economic development and partnership between our two cities. Last year, we did a scouting trip to see if there was any interest from local businesses in Ho Chi Minh City to meet with St. Louis companies. We were encouraged to see many Vietnamese companies who have already been doing business in the state of Missouri for several years, and others who expressed interest in connecting with Missouri firms. This year, we took a group of 11 St. Louis companies, large and small. Organizations who joined us for this trade mission included Enterprise Holdings, Washington University, University of Missouri, Objex Design, Hollywood Casino, mFourZero, Enliven, Dimvaloo, MasterClock, and Regions Bank, among others.

The journey to Ho Chi Minh City from St. Louis requires a bit of time commitment. But we all managed to arrive safe and sound. Our group met for the first time as we all arrived Wednesday, November 9. We had lunch at a colonial/local Vietnamese restaurant called Ngon, a popular destination for world leaders who come to visit Vietnam to get a taste of local cuisines from all regions in one place. This lunch also happened on the day of US Presidential Election night (Vietnam is 12 hours ahead of St. Louis time zone) so everybody was eager to hear the results. Next, we toured the city to get us all familiar with what we’ve learned from history versus what the country is really like.

Afterwards, we attended a private networking reception with local business owners and executives, foreign investors, consulates, and various chambers of commerce. We partnered with Vietnam CEO Club, a local chamber of commerce with 120+ of Vietnam’s largest companies, to welcome US Consul General Mary Tarnowka, and representatives from global companies like Tupperware, Deloitte, PwC, PEB Steel, PV Bank and Pernod Ricard.

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Both Al Li, president of AACC and I offered our remarks about the opportunities between the two cities. We had a great networking night with local companies and it enabled us to build stronger relationships.

The next day we toured Becamex, Vietnam’s largest industrial park. Here we visited many factories such as Uniqlo, one of the five biggest specialty fashion retailers in the world, to learn more about the industrial manufacturing side of Vietnam. This was particularly exciting to see for a lot of our group members, because it was the first time they had seen manufacturing on a large scale. Since outsourcing and globalization began in the late 80’s and early 90’s, touring a factory of this scale has become an absolute rarity in the United States (and non-existent in St. Louis, a once bustling garment and shoes district).

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On our last day of the trade mission, we began with The CEO Club Economic Outlook 2017 Conference, where we heard about economic trends and opportunities from speakers like Sebastian Eckardt, Lead Economist of World Bank Vietnam, Ashish Kanchan, Managing Director of Kantar TNS Vietnam, and Nguyen Thi Hong, Deputy Governor of State Bank of Vietnam.

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Perhaps the most amazing part of this trip was the ceremony for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for economic development between our two organizations (CEO Club Vietnam and AACC St. Louis). I’ve been working on this effort for quite sometimes with the President of CEO Club Vietnam and am thrilled to see it came through. The MoU was signed by the president of AACC, Al Li, and CEO Club Vietnam President, Minh Phuong Dang, and indicates our dedication to economic development with Vietnam and the mutual respect between our organizations. This was witnessed by US Consul General Mary Tarnowka and Pham Thanh Kien, Chairman of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Industry and Trade.

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CEO Club is an ambitious group with whom we were proud to partner. This organization brought together many companies around the world to work with local Vietnamese firms and find ways to be mutually successful in the international arena. This partnership represents one of the first steps in making St. Louis more well-known in the international market once again.

If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to visit AACC St. Louis website and attend one of their events. We will be bringing more businesses to Ho Chi Minh City in early November of 2017. I look forward to seeing many new faces and future opportunities between the two cities!

Cuong is the co-founder of Enliven. He is an expert in user experience and design, product launches, and business development.