MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Ena Park is a Montgomery businesswoman.
The 28-year-old just happens to be from China. And as a descendant of Korean immigrants to China, she speaks three languages.
That’s not as unique here as it was when she arrived as an Auburn Montgomery student five years ago.
“Even in school you could see that there were very few international students,” Park said. “But now if you go to AUM you can just walk around and see people from all over the world.”
The arrival of Hyundai’s auto assembly plant changed more than just the manufacturing landscape here. The shift to an international focus triggered a cascade of changes that continue to ripple through the culture and community of the business world and other aspects of life in central Alabama.
Montgomery is recognizing the importance of attracting entrepreneurs from other countries. Last month, the Small Business Resource Center held a meeting on multicultural communication that attracted a cross-section of businesses.
Park works in international operations for Hodges Warehouse and Logistics, a Montgomery company that once made its money in the cattle market. Now its clients include Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama and one of its biggest parts suppliers, Mobis.
The Korean and Chinese communities continue to grow in the area, and Park is active in both.
Last year, she joined other young professionals in EMERGE Montgomery, a program that lets 22- to 40-year-olds connect and share ideas that could help shape the city’s future. One of the initiatives that came out of EMERGE was the massive riverfront New Year’s Eve bash that drew thousands last year.
“If there’s any other chance for me to share my thoughts with people, I’d love to do it,” Park said.
Community leaders want to give people like Park the chance to do just that.
EMERGE’s parent group, Leadership Montgomery, started as a way to “build bridges among communities” during a period of racial strife, said Cheryl Carter, the program’s executive director. But like the community, it has changed through the years. Now, Carter said, it gives people from different backgrounds a chance to come together – and to find solutions to some of the city’s problems.
Carter said four different groups within the organization are working on how to lower dropout rates at Jefferson Davis High School, with a team of seven or eight people focused on each grade level.
“We know that it’s probably going to take three years to see a significant difference,” Carter said. “But I know it will make a difference.”
Meanwhile, those in the leadership program often find some new perspectives from each other and some insight into different communities.
“If you and I are on the same team, we have to learn to work together,” she said. “Even though we might not think alike, we have to collaborate.”
Participation from the Asian and Hispanic communities have been on the rise, said Harold Boone, the vice president of Minority Business Development and Leadership Programs for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. He said there were five Asian graduates from the most recent leadership class.
It’s those people who could shape the face of central Alabama in the coming decades, Boone said.
“The folks around today and have been here for a long time, they’re going to have to move over at some point and you’ve got a new generation of entrepreneurs and leaders,” he said.
Where does Park plan to be in 10 years?
“Raising a family here,” she said.
Park plans to get married later this year and recently bought a house in Montgomery.
“I saw her house yesterday – very nice,” said her co-worker, Yuting Tang. “I’ll start with an apartment, but later on a house.”
Tang, a 22-year-old China native and Troy University graduate, has only been in Montgomery for a few months, working as a financial analyst at Hodges Warehouse. She said she plans to move here permanently this spring.
Last week, she and Park shook hands with a parade of local business leaders at a multicultural breakfast.
“Montgomery’s a big city for me,” Tang said. “I come from Troy.”
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)