Q&A with Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes is executive director of the International Relations Council of Kansas City, an organization that has been strengthening our community’s global perspective since 1954. As the world has grown increasingly interconnected over the decades, the IRC has become a trusted resource in the local business community, convening substantive conversations about international events and issues and their impact on Kansas City. Thinking Bigger recently posed the following questions to Hughes.

Q. What global topics do you find local entrepreneurs and small-business owners to be most interested in learning more about?

Matthew Hughes: Entrepreneurs and small-business owners are often interested in the hows and whys of international business, especially when they’re just getting started. Kansas City is fortunate to have a robust ecosystem of organizations offering training on the nuts and bolts of doing business overseas.

Also important in this conversation is the policy, geopolitical and international affairs context in which global business is done – and that’s where IRC programs offer deep insight into current events, global environments and policy considerations, all of which have ramifications for businesses of any size.

Q. What is your approach to helping people stay abreast of world events and global issues that impact the KC business community?

MH: For more than 66 years, the IRC has hosted journalists, professors and diplomats for deep dives into what’s going on around the world and how it connects to our Kansas City community. Virtual programming has opened even more opportunities. In the coming weeks, we’ll be speaking with the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, considering the ripples of Brexit on the European Union, discussing a Georgian film, reading a book from Colombia and much more.

Q. Based on your conversations with professionals from abroad who have come to Kansas City for jobs, what are a few things you would recommend area businesses do to attract and keep the non-local talent they need to support their growth?

MH: Despite our reputation for Midwestern hospitality, for Kansas City to attract and retain talent from elsewhere, it’s imperative that we become an even more welcoming community. A significant element of this is showing an authentic interest in and taking steps to understand the places and situations from which our global neighbors are arriving. IRC programs give individuals a chance to explore the world and world affairs from work, home or wherever they might be, and these insights build empathy and genuine understanding of others.

Q. What are some KC resources small business owners can tap into to connect with others doing business abroad?

MH: Small-business owners would benefit from offerings from the World Trade Center-Kansas City and International Trade Council, as well as work being done by the Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Centers in the metro region. And check out our vibrant calendar of events at the International Relations Council to grow your global perspective.

Q. Is there a KC-area business you can think of that may not be a household name but that has found success internationally?

MH: BioMicrobics, one of the IRC’s organizational members, is based in Lenexa, Kansas, and does business in dozens of countries around the world in the space of advanced wastewater treatment systems, greywater, water reuse and recycling systems. Their systems are on cruise ships and in communities, and it all happens right here in the KC area.

Q. Is there an international issue or two you see on the horizon that local businesses should be keeping an eye on?

MH: How the global community, regions and countries continue to respond to the challenges imposed by COVID-19 will have an impact on businesses at all levels for years to come. Whether it’s considering supply chains, travel, consumers or new markets, it’s important to recognize that the reality we’re experiencing in Kansas City does not match much of the rest of the world. It’s important to keep as broad and informed a perspective as possible as we find our way through these unprecedented challenges.