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In 1986, while awaiting the publication of my second book, “Finance and Empire, Sir Charles Addis, 1861-1945,” my friend, Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer, suggested that I prepare a study of export trade in Western New York.

Although I was a historian interested in international business, I thought it was a strange suggestion. Who knew about exports in Western New York? But Joan’s father, who had had a successful career in business, insisted that she do something to promote exports as a key to reviving the economy. And Joan was the kind of a friend who would not accept “no” for an answer!

And so I began interviewing prominent local businessmen, professionals, government people and academics who had knowledge of international trade – such people as Lauren Rachlin, an international lawyer; Robert Magee, the head of the U.S. Department of Commerce office, and professors at the University at Buffalo’s Department of Geography and School of Management.

Quickly it became apparent that more international trade was taking place in Buffalo than I had realized.

Following these initial investigations, Joan dispatched me to the World Trade Center in New York City, where I discovered how significant international trade really was to New York’s economy and learned about ways to promote exports. I suspect that Joan funded that trip out of her own limited legislative funds, which showed her amazing commitment and determination.

My report convinced Joan that we needed an international trade organization in Buffalo that would help companies export. Soon I found myself writing grant applications to both public and private sources. At this point I became discouraged, since I could detect considerable opposition from local entities who were not enthused about the creation of a new, private economic organization. But Joan Bozer is a person who does not give up. Her enthusiasm was boundless and her support encouraged me to keep trying.

We made a critical decision at this juncture: we invited CEOs of companies engaged in international trade to serve as founding directors of what we would call the Western New York International Trade Council or ITC.

We also decided to seek the support of the Margaret Wendt Foundation. Soon we had a $25,000 start-up grant from the foundation and our board of directors led by such outstanding business people as Marshall Glickman, president of Ruslander & Sons; Donald Quinlan, CEO of Graphic Controls; Randall Clark, CEO of Dunlop; Herbert Mennen, president of Mennen Medical, and Lauren Rachlin, a senior partner of Kavinoky & Cook. They gave our fledgling organization credibility.

Before long we were able to recruit dues-paying corporate members to ensure growth and continuity. When I retired as executive director in 1997, the ITC had 300 corporate members and shortly thereafter, became the Buffalo/Niagara World Trade Organization, which continues today.

My shift from an academic life to leadership in the business community provided me with a whole new experience and education. In addition to my career as a historian, I always had been active as a volunteer with various educational and civic organizations, but my knowledge of the problems companies face was very limited.

Leadership of the ITC plunged me into a whole new environment. It was very rewarding – not financially as much as in giving me a sense that I was doing something important for my community.

Joan Bozer’s vision, encouragement and support created a new organization. She also changed my life, and I believe her efforts helped more people and companies in Buffalo think globally.

When we started talking about this vision in the late 1980s, people thought we were deranged. Now, of course, everyone understands the importance of international trade to our region’s survival.