ECTACO Info | Exports mean jobs, in any language

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Article by: DEE DePASS , Star Tribune

Overseas business is creating opportunities in Minnesota. But finding bilingual workers with the right skills is a challenge.

Shirley Xian recently whirled back to her Minnetonka office from China, where she spent two weeks meeting 50 potential bank customers for her employer, Datacard Group.

As Xian returned a flurry of phone calls to China, Juselly French a Colombian attorney and head of Datacard's human resources department, was on the phone downstairs speaking in Portuguese to employees in Brazil. Minutes later, she was reading job reviews in Spanish with a manager in Mexico.

French and Xian, a former banker with HSBC, are just two in a string of recent Datacard hires thanks to growing global demand for the company's secure financial and identification card products. They represent key "bridges" to the outside world, and Datacard's looking for more like them.

"We can't hire fast enough, and it's all being fueled by our exports," said Russell St. John, Datacard's senior vice president of global marketing.

Growing exports has become a strategy of choice for policymakers from St. Paul to Washington, D.C. State officials, for example, are hoping Twin Cities firms can double exports, to $35 billion, within five years. The bet is that sales abroad will translate into more jobs here at home -- especially for smaller companies that may be new to exporting.

But many small and medium-size companies complain that it's difficult to find workers who are bilingual or skilled in just the right areas of international marketing, law, transit or engineering.

"The jobs that are being created are really good, valuable jobs in manufacturing, marketing and engineering. And most are right here in Minnetonka," St. John said. But recruiting is difficult.

The company needs people with engineering and marketing backgrounds and software technologists who can read specs or contracts in other languages or act as middlemen between customers and salespeople in fast-growing markets including China, Brazil and India.