Nine men and women from three cities in Russia are currently visiting Davis to learn how to jump-start their businesses, American-style.
Two of the women, Elena A. Urvantseva (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Galina Militsyna (email@example.com) are owners of private language schools. They both also are interested in promoting their cities and the region they live in.
Urvantseva is from the Switzerland of Russia - remember the name of the city - it's Zlatoust in the Chelyabinsk region. This city of 200,000 is on the border between Asia and Europe. She runs the non-profit, city-supported English Center, which is both a language school and business center. She is hopeful that a variety of exchanges can be arranged between groups from California and groups from the Chelyabinsk area. (Chelyabinsk also is the name of the area's main city.)
Urvantseva wants to see Zlatoust promoted as a tourist destination both for those interested in culture and those interested in adventure sports. Traditional Zlatoust engraving techniques are found on tableware, art work and decorative items worldwide, including in the White House where President Boris Yeltsin presented a sword of victory to former President Bill Clinton.
Skiing, horse-back riding, hunting, sailing are all activities the adventurous traveler can find in the Zlatoust area.
Urvantseva says she will host a conference about her three-week trip to America when she returns to Russia. "I've met a lot of interesting people here who are friendly and open and ready to participate in cultural exchanges," she said.
"Every person in America seems to be responsible for his or her own job and for promoting his city. Even small things like not littering can lead to big things," she added.
About an hour east of Zlatoust is the formerly closed city of Chelyabinsk, where Militsyna lives. It was off limits to foreign visitors until 1990. Weapons, including tanks, were once manufactured there; now they make tractors.
Militsyna teaches English at a state school and in her spare time runs a private language school called Polyglot. She doesn't have a lot of free time.
"All my life I have been working for someone else," Militsyna said. "When I had the opportunity, I wanted to start my own school." She says her 2-year-old school has not yet turned a profit but she thinks it will in the future.
She invites American tourists to come to her city to learn Russian at Polyglot and to meet students interested in talking to native speakers while they visit the city's art galleries, opera house, organ hall, museums and churches.
"Chelyabinsk is only two hours by air from Moscow," she said. "And in this very old city you can find typical Russian cuisine, Russian ballet and old architecture. And since this area is rich in minerals and semiprecious stones, American tourists may enjoy visiting exhibitions of goods made of turquoise, amber, jasper, serpentine and buying things to bring home to remind them of the Urals and Chelyabinsk.
"People here seem very interested and ready to visit Chelyabinsk," she said.
Former Davis Mayor Maynard Skinner played a large part in organizing the business program for the nine visitors and tried to match each person's interest with a Davis or Sacramento counterpart.
Skinner made sure that Militsyna and Urvantseva met with Yvette Mulholland, executive director of the Davis Conference and Visitors' Bureau.
Mulholland predicted that this area of Russia will one day be very popular with travelers.
"They have a phenomenal product," she said. "But they are starting from scratch."
Mulholland said the individual traveler interested in local culture or the group traveler interested in hunting or fishing would find Chelyabinsk fascinating.
"People travel for memories," she said. "The fact that there's no Holiday Inn there is no drawback."
Mulholland said the women have to decide what they want to emphasize in their market, then have to connect with other tourism networks and promote their niche market.
"They have to think about what to sell and who to sell it to," she said. "But they have a golden product."
Mulholland suggested the focus of early promotions be Europe rather than the United States, mainly because it will be easier for Europeans rather than Californians to travel to the former Soviet republic.
Skinner said other members of the Russian team visiting Davis had diverse interests from theater productions and electronic ticket sales to pizza-making and the restaurant business.
Sergey Tukachev entered an employee training program at Steve's Pizza for the few weeks that he was here.
"He's going to know how to make Steve's pizza when he goes back to Chelyabinsk," said Skinner. "And that's a good thing because the pizzas I've had in Russia weren't very good," he added.
Skinner thanked the businesses in Davis whose owners and employees have met with visiting Russians over the years.
"It takes a lot of contacts and willingness of people to share their time," he said. "But these programs do make a difference," he added.
This is Skinner's third program for English-speaking Russian business people but it represents the 16th group overall that he has coordinated under the auspices of California State University, Sacramento, for the State Department.
Skinner says he has visited various former Soviet republics after his visitors have returned from the U.S. and in some cases he has seen amazing implementations of American ideas.
A winemaker in Armenia, for instance, visited a winery in Napa and picked up brochures with photos of new wine-crushing equipment. Based only on the photos, he made new equipment for his modest winery, which Skinner saw.
"It was very impressive," Skinner said.
In another case, a Russian from St. Petersburg who was interested in car repairs and maintenance had a bright idea after interning with Rick Hoffmann at Union '76 and Bob Isbell at Center City Auto.
He added a new service to his garage - adding steel undercarriages to cars that would otherwise be damaged by gravel and rocks on poorly maintained Russian roads.
"There are some wonderful success stories," Skinner said. In the area of public relations, marketing and customer service it's a little harder to measure success.
"The whole group has had classes on marketing, business strategy and low-cost advertising plans," he said.
"They have picked up a lot of good ideas," Skinner said.
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