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The Piedmont region—often called the cradle of Italy's auto industry—was hit hard when Fiat Group ( (FIA.MI)) began a restructuring program in 2002 that included culling the number of its suppliers. The Torino Chamber of Commerce stepped in to help local mom-and-pop suppliers attract new clients. Its $6.6 million marketing campaign brought 45 buyers to the region and helped local businesses organize trade missions and secure contracts with other automakers from around the world. For its success at helping to rescue part of the local economy, Torino's project won the prize for Best International Project awarded on June 5 in Kuala Lumpur by the (ICC). The ICC's annual World Chambers Competition recognizes initiative in creating partnerships between small and large businesses around the world. It's like an "Olympic Games for chambers of commerce," says Calvin Bartlett, a competition judge and head of the Anguilla Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the Caribbean. With the economy in the dumps, cooperation among companies, governments, and the nonprofit sector is more vital than ever. "The competition promotes public-private partnership and gives small businesses worldwide recognition, giving chambers the opportunity to exhibit diversity and cooperation between countries," said Anthony Parkes, director of the World Chambers Federation (WCF), a section of the ICC that organizes the competition. No Shortage of Entries The WCF announced a total of four winners in its sixth annual award program, as well as a special commendation for the best project from an emerging economy. The top projects were selected from among 48 entries in four categories: small business, networking, international, and "unconventional." Those were narrowed to 19 finalists from all over the world—both developed countries, such as the U.S. and France, and those with emerging economies, like Bolivia and Mongolia. This year's entries ranged from fairly simple projects, such as developing health, safety, and environmental regulations for small businesses in the Caribbean, to ambitious remediation programs for areas hurt by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce in Britain, for instance, spent $160,000 in Sri Lanka developing a careers service center, along with other programs, to help small businesses recover from the disaster. Manchester's initiative won the 2009 award for Best Networking Project. WCF director Parkes says this year's contest saw more joint ventures between developed and emerging countries. A partnership between the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce in Germany and a chamber in Madagascar, for example, won the award for Best Small Business Project. Hamburg lent a helping hand to Madagascar by contributing $1.6 million to develop vocational training courses for workers in industries ranging from financial services to retail. Projects that can be adopted by other chambers and businesses around the world also were well received. In an effort to help foreign workers assimilate to life in Norway, the Oslo Chamber of Commerce established a service that provides expatriates assistance with visas, finding housing, and guidance to cultural and social activities. The chamber received the Best Unconventional Project award for establishing a successful program with wide applicability in other locales. Developing Countries Benefit By highlighting international partnerships, the WCF competition gives prominence to the chambers in developing countries—which in turn, makes them a stronger resource for local entrepreneurs. This year, Turkey's Izmir Chamber of Commerce was given special recognition for creating the Best Project from a Developing Country. The chamber helped establish the new Izmir University of Economics in 2001, which now has nearly 6,000 students enrolled. To find out more about the winning projects and finalists, check out our slide show on the WCF competition. See these slide shows of other recent business awards competitions: The World Economic Forum's 2009 Tech Pioneers 2008 Pioneers of Prosperity Africa Awards
Mohsin is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Oslo.

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