The global economy is accelerating rapidly and local employers need to join it. That means targeting global markets and hiring the kind of talent that can succeed in diverse business climates.

That means becoming a global employer.

Those were key messages to emerge at the inaugural Global Employer Summit, which Global Cleveland hosted May 31 at the InterContinental Hotel. The first-of-its-kind conference drew more than 150 business leaders, educators and international students.

They discussed new business frontiers, missed opportunities, and strategies for making local companies more competitive in the global economy.

“I think we’re in a very interesting time,” said Robert Horsley, executive director of Fragomen, an immigration law firm with a global practice. “The world is globalizing rapidly. I don’t think global hiring is just for the big companies anymore.”

He said small and medium-sized companies need to begin to take advantage of international talent, which may require learning the visa system and developing some cultural competencies.

Horsley, who flew into the summit from San Francisco, noted companies in Cleveland’s peer cities, like Pittsburgh, now routinely hire internationally to fill jobs in high technology.

Scott Chmielowicz, the senior director of global mobility and human resources at Cleveland Clinic, reinforced that message in an afternoon panel discussion. He said the clinic became a world-class hospital system by becoming a global employer.

“We’re taking the best of the best internationally. We’re bringing some great international talent to Cleveland through H-1B visas,” he said, referring to visa program for immigrants with special skills.

A sobering backdrop to the summit was a recent study by Team NEO, the regional business attraction agency. Its research revealed a mismatch between local job openings and the local skillset. Not enough local residents possess the skills needed by area employers.

Jacob Duritsky, the vice president of strategy and research at Team NEO, told his audience the regional economy will not realize its potential until the skills gap is narrowed. He also pointed to a ready resource—the 7,000 international students studying at area universities.

Many of those students are earning degrees in science, engineering and technology, his research found. Their in-demand skills could help local employers to compete and grow, creating more jobs for everyone.

“That means that international students are well-positioned for job opportunities here,” he said.

However, hiring them might require a change in attitudes.

Many international students, including several who attended the summit, say they are ignored by local employers, and so they must look elsewhere to launch careers in America.

Sowmya Bhamidi came to the summit with a new master’s degree in digital sciences from Kent State University. She is seeking work in the growing field of data science.

As a graduate of a U.S. university, Bhamidi can work up to three years before needing an employer to sponsor a work visa. Yet she has so far found her immigration status to be a deal breaker in Northeast Ohio.

“I say, ‘You’ll have three years to decide if I’m worth it,” she said cheerfully.

She shook her head.

“They’re very nice. They tell me I’m highly qualified. I never hear back.”

Andy Passen thinks she is running up against a harmful mindset. The former director of human resources for Forest City Enterprise says many local employers are either unaware of the visa process or are intimidated by it, especially in the current political climate.

That’s one reason he pushed for an employer summit. He saw a need to educate employers on the relative ease of hiring international talent.

“It’s the start of a dialogue that I hope will lead to action,” he said near the close of the daylong conference. “We need to bring more business leaders into the discussion. I think there’s a lot of misinformation.”

By hiring high-skill immigrants, he said, local employers can strengthen their companies while helping to replenish the region’s population.

“There are so many levels of win,” he added. “You can win for your company. You can win for your community.”

Global Cleveland has not yet decided if there will be a second Global Employer Summit, but Passen’s mind is made up.

“We need more of these,” he said.