For someone like me, born at the beginning of the Cold War, it didn’t seem possible that I would ever travel to Russia. When the opportunity arose for me to be part of a business-oriented Sister Cities delegation to Sarov in the Russian Federation, I jumped at the chance. Six people from Los Alamos traveled to Sarov in late September, for four meeting-packed days, during which we met with our counterparts in the business sector, education, libraries and county government.

Sarov is the home to Russia’s nuclear institute, and is still a closed city, much as Los Alamos was until the late ‘50s. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the city and state governments of the region have been trying to support an independent business community.

What we learned is that there are basically two tracks to business creation in Sarov. The more familiar track is when an entrepreneur has an idea and applies for a permit from the city to develop that idea. We saw a hotel, a club, a yarn shop and several restaurants that had developed with that model. The second track is where the Duma, or city government, identifies a need for a business (such as a bookstore) and appoints a director, whose job it is to think about that need and find a manager for the bookstore. The city has a department dedicated to business development.

It was gratifying to see the results of our Sister Cities relationship in Sarov. They have adopted many of our programs in their business support center, giving workshops and hosting a business club. They have a publication which is very similar to this Mind Your Business newsletter, and a Small Business Center with business premises that is much like ours.

It is also interesting to note the ways in which we differ. There is some city and state funding for businesses in the form of small grants- approximately $6,000 from the city and $10,000 from the state of Nizhny-Novgorod. There is also some monetary support to reimburse businesses for trade show expenses and training expenses. They produce a television show for the local television station, and also host an annual competition for “Best Business.”

It was a great opportunity for me to step back and look at our services and ask the question “are we doing the right things to meet our goals?”