Tokyo-Denver route opening trade doors

As an international trade delegation boarded the first direct flight from Denver to Tokyo on June 11, four Northern Colorado officials were among the passengers, looking to recruit international university students and open new routes for meat and energy exports.

Three members of Northern Colorado’s delegation were from the education sector, including two representatives from the University of Northern Colorado and one from Coloirado State University.

Michelle Behr, acting dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at UNC, was among the travelers. She and her academic colleagues are hopeful that the flight will make it easier for Japanese students to find their way to UNC and CSU, even as Colorado students make the trip in the other direction.

Increasing the number of exchange students is part of the university’s “internationalization plan,” Behr said. This plan aims to enhance cultural awareness and diversity on UNC’s campus, she said, and identifies bringing in students from eastern Asia as a priority.

In the future, relationships with Asian countries and an understanding of their business practices will be vital, according to Maureen Ulevich, director of the Center for International Education at UNC.

As trade grows between Asia and the United States, business students in particular will need to develop a good understanding of Asian culture and customs, according to Ulevich.

Many of the more than 100 Asian students now attending UNC are studying at the Monfort College of Business, as well as in other well-known UNC programs such as performing arts, Behr said.

During her time in Japan, Ulevich visited three Japanese universities to help establish and build relationships.

One, Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, already is a partner institution with UNC, according to Behr. One UNC student is studying there now.

UNC held a recruitment fair at Aoyama Gakuin, Behr said, and Ulevich visited the other two campuses as well.

Ulevich said she believes the 11-hour flight from Denver to Tokyo will reduce students’ anxiety associated with travel because it eliminates other stops and ensures a much smoother travel experience, which can be very important for a student going to a country he or she has never visited.

Mark Hallett, senior director of international studies at CSU and another delegation member, said making Denver a direct destination could be a “game-changer.”

“First, it makes Colorado less of a fly-over spot on the map and more of a destination,” Hallett said. “Second, this will really boost Colorado’s brand and help us compete more favorably with cities on the other coasts.”

Hallett is a member of a statewide consortium called Study Colorado, which aims to bring international students to the state. Study Colorado has 22 member institutions, including UNC, the University of Colorado and the University of Denver, and is partnered with the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

“State officials are really starting to take a look at the benefit of international college students in Colorado,” Hallett said. “International students provide $244 million each year to our state’s economy, and they promote tourism and trade benefits with their host countries.”

In addition to the economic benefit of international students, the potential for economic growth stemming from international companies has expanded because of the flight.

Eric Berglund, president and chief executive of Upstate Colorado Economic Development Corp., also traveled to Tokyo.

“The flight opens up access for many of our companies,” Berglund said. “We have a number of companies that do business there, with the biggest being JBS.”

Japan is the world’s third-largest beef importer, which could translate into profits for JBS, which produces about 13 percent of the world’s beef, now that the company has expanded access to the Japanese market.

The flight has the potential to open new opportunities for Colorado, Berglund said, especially in the energy and agriculture industries, the two largest economic drivers in Weld County.

“The Japanese are very interested in our energy policy,” he said. After a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country and caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, it has become increasingly difficult for Japan to find sources of energy, Berglund said.

Japan imported natural gas in 2012, but also is interested in shale opportunities in Northern Colorado.

One of the most important pieces of the trip, according to Berglund, was planting the seeds for new relationships, which are paramount in Japanese culture. Back in Northern Colorado, he will follow up with companies such as Anadarko that may be able to benefit from Japan’s interest in energy from shale plays, as well as fielding leads from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., which worked for nearly three decades to create the Tokyo-Denver connection.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, or

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