KNYSNA NEWS - A US consular delegation complete with stars and stripes and fine wine and finger foods made a brief visit to Knysna last week to launch a Professional Skills Programme in support of local entrepreneurs.
The initiative is a joint venture between Knysna and George municipalities and the US Government, which is presently the Western Cape's top foreign direct investor contributing to nearly 100 foreign direct investment projects worth $2.3-billion (about R35-billion) and which have created over 8 000 jobs in the province.
Western Cape exports to the US have doubled in the past six years constituting more than $688-million worth of goods to the US last year.
A place to innovate
The pop-up project forms part of the larger ''American Corner'' initiative intended to offer a physical space (or corner) in which South Africans and Americans can meet to exchange ideas, learn contemporary skills and create and innovate in unison.
Led by deputy consul-general William Stevens, the well-attended event at the Old Gaol in Queen Street on Thursday evening had Knysna mayor Mark Willemse up first with some sobering stats on unemployment, followed by a hearty ''howdy'' by Stevens before the mic was passed on to business strategist Tamiko Cuellar.
Stevens reached way back into time with some poignant details on US-SA relations – such as that the diplomatic relationship between the two countries stretch back some 220 years and South Africa constitutes the 8th Diplomatic Mission in North America's history of global diplomatic ties.
He also enlightened his audience to the little-known fact that despite our somewhat wobbly fiscal landscape, Knysna harbours some salient small-business success stories in our own backyard such as the oak-wood export concern in the Industrial Area and a leading Knysna drone supplier which exports 50% of its product to the US.
Focus on export
In fact, Cuellar explained, this is precisely what our local entrepreneurs should be aiming for: thinking way beyond the box – towards the export market which, she promises, could be made much more accommodating with her, our mayor and her consular cohort's assistance. Her heart-felt intention, she said, was to teach local entrepreneurs how to make their businesses blossom by ''breaking down the strongholds of poverty in their minds''.
The event showcased some of the products produced by local artists already included in the initiative which is not only aimed at boosting import and export dynamics with the US but also investment opportunities, assisting those wishing to study through Education US, facilitating individuals on professional and academic exchange programmes (YALI/Fulbright etc.) and interactions with innovative businesses and organisations in our neck of the woods.
Through the project, an African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) masterclass was hosted in George on Friday 23 August, with a Business of Entrepreneurship class consisting of about 15 startup entrepreneurs in creative industries including leather products, jewellery and accessory designs.
"There is no lack of creativity here," Cuellar stressed, "only lack of opportunities."
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