Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- While the WOW! factor is the No. 1 memory Catherine Glover brought back from her seven-day stay in Dubai, perhaps as exciting for the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce president/CEO is the call she got shortly after she returned from the United Arab Emirates.

"I've already had someone from our community contact me wanting me to provide an introduction to a couple of folks from Dubai," Glover said. "That's what this trip was about: one-on-one relationship building opportunities on a global level.

"There's a saying -- 'Think small, be small' -- that I believe businesses today must consider. Even here in Albany, businesses have to start thinking globally."

Glover certainly can't be accused of small thinking after her second whirlwind adventure taken to develop relationships with emerging world powers in her less-than-two-year tenure with the Albany chamber. In March of 2009 she spent nine days in Shanghai, China.

"I came back from the Shanghai trip thinking 'Wow, that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,' and now here we are again," Glover said. "I'm so thankful that the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Council facilitates the opportunity for us to do these things that have the potential to open important doors for our area businesses."

Glover was one of 35 representatives of the national chamber's Metro Cities Group (chambers representing areas with MSAs of 150,000 or greater), and one of two Georgia chamber representatives, to make the March 6-12 journey to one of the world's most wealthy regions.

And while Dubai may have been built on the Middle East's plentiful oil supply, it has become one of the world's premier tourist stops. In fact, 98 percent of Dubai's gross domestic product is non-oil related.

The unemployment rate in the emirate (one of seven territories that make up the United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Gulf) is 0 percent.

"We were told if you don't have a job here, you don't live here," Glover said.

In a relatively short period of time -- much of it in the last two decades -- Dubai has become a gleaming tourist oasis in a vast desert region. It contains the world's only seven-star resort (Burj Al Arab), the world's tallest building (Burj Dubai), luxury resorts built on artificial islands created from native desert sand (The Palm) and unrivaled retail facilities that include the world's largest shopping mall.

"They strive to have the tallest, the biggest, the best of everything," Glover said of the Arab nation. "I don't know that I didn't say 'Wow!' more in that one week than I've said cumulatively in my lifetime. Every day the Dubai Chamber folks outdid themselves."

In addition to visiting the famed resorts and landmarks of the emirate, Glover and her fellow American visitors were introduced to such native cultural wonders as pearl diving, falconry, bellydancing and one of the world's greatest equestrian centers. The group also enjoyed an afternoon tea at the palace of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president/prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

"That was an impressive experience," Glover said. "Sheikh Mohammed has invested billions of dollars in Dubai in the last decade, and he is revered as a visionary by all the people there."

Glover, a native of Maine, also got the chance to turn the clock back a bit and go snow skiing -- indoors -- during a visit to the Mall of the Emirates.

"I was on my high school's ski team, but it's been a while since I had the opportunity to go skiing," she said. "But I made it down the bunny slope, worked my way up to midstation and by the end of the night made my way to the peak.

"This place was amazing. It's located at a region that might get 120-degree heat and 100 percent humidity, but it's kept at 28 degrees year-round. It was so amazing; there was a TGI Friday's slopeside."

Despite the cultural, retail, architectural and resort wonders planned for the chamber visitors, Glover said the trip was about establishing contacts in virtually untapped markets.

"Networking and contacts; that's what it's all about in places like Dubai and Shanghai," she said. "You can't do business in these places without building relationships. There has to be a level of trust.

"I'm honored -- and I often remind our staff and myself this -- by the positions we hold in our community. Taking advantage of opportunities to travel abroad takes me out of my personal comfort zone, and if it does for me -- someone who has had opportunities to travel extensively -- I can imaging how it would for some of our members. But that's what it takes for businesses to succeed in today's global economy."