“Exporting goods and services should become a focus for small businesses,” said a panel of experts at an event this week in Washington, DC. The panel, hosted by Washington Post Live and sponsored by United Postal Service and Hilton Worldwide, kicked off a three-part series “Exporting for Growth.” The next two sessions will be held in Chicago on November 10th and in Los Angeles on December 8th.
Derrick Johnson, a UPS marketing executive and event sponsor, opened the event by encouraging attendees that while “exporting is not an easy challenge”, it “can be a critical part of your business.” Mary Jordan, editor of Washington Post Live, introduced the panel by noting that only 1% of US companies export. “Think of the potential” if President Barrack Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015 is, she asked.
Made in the USA Appeal
The panel of government officials and business leaders from the Washington, DC area shared how small businesses can expand their global opportunities. Marie Johns, the Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration, reminded the audience that the Made in the USA brand is “very powerful” around the world. The SBA is supporting exports through its recently opened office of international trade, and by authorizing $30 million in grants to states to support small businesses interested in exporting abroad.
Ms. Johns explained how the SBA’s focus on training and technical assistance helps companies get comfortable with exporting. “The importance of small business in our economy can’t be overstated,” Ms. Johns said. “They are the job creators, and we need them to create the jobs. And the opportunities overseas are significant.”
She walked through the SBA’s four-step process: Identify firms interested in exporting; Prepare them with technical assistance and raising capital; Connect them with resources at events around the country; and finally, Support the small businesses as they take advantage of the export opportunities. “Exporting is good for our economy, good for global competitiveness, and good for jobs,” Ms. Johns concluded.
Small Business Success in Global Exporting
Drew Greenblatt, President of Baltimore, MD-based Marlin Steel, told his export-driven success story. Marlin Steel has grown 6x since he acquired the company, and 35% in 2011, primarily though exports to 35 countries.
He offered a number of suggestions for companies looking to emulate his growth, including taking advantage of loan guarantees offered by the Export-Import Bank and state grants for exporting companies. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers are outside the USA,” said Greenblatt. “We need more customers.” He closed his remarks on an optimistic note: “Doubling [exports] in 5 years is very attainable…if we accomplish that we’ll kill the recession.”
Overcoming the Challenges of International Business Development
One of the obvious challenges to exports is the lack of financing. However, panelist Michael Filchock, sees “fear of stepping outside the comfort zone” as a bigger challenge than lack of capital.
Filchock, Director of Global Trade Solutions for SunTrust Bank, said financing has grown in recent years due to lending support from the Export-Import Bank and the SBA. SunTrust provides working capital financing to “see companies succeed” in their export goals, Filchock explained.
Another reason why exporting is so critical, explained Bill Burwell, the Director of the Baltimore U.S. Export Assistance Center, is that “International sales have a higher profit margin than sales in the US.” Burwell’s organization operates offices in 85 countries to help businesses tap into these high-profit sales. The US Commercial Service has people on the ground in these countries and runs a service to match companies with clients and partners— “like a dating service”, Burwell explained. This Gold Key Service costs $700 and results in 4-6 pre-screened local partners for each US-based business.
Seizing Global Opportunities
The panel concluded after brief remarks by Sean Mulvaney, Director, Export-Import Bank, and a short Q&A session with the audience. Audience members were enthusiastic about the future of global exporting and its impact on their small businesses.
Entrepreneur Patricia Harrison, who just last month founded Global Business Development Consultancy, said she attended the event because she consults for clients on exporting for growth, “and wanted to hear what the experts say.” Her company works primarily with IT, software, and nonprofit organizations in Africa and Latin America.
Samira Cook-Gaines, the Director of the DC Women’s Business Center, said was glad to hear the panel encouraging small businesses to look abroad. The Center provides free counseling to help women-owned small businesses strategize and grow exports. “Women are uniquely positioned for international business,” Cook-Gaines said, “and we want to empower them to succeed.”
To view additional event photos and coverage, visit YFS Magazine on Facebook and the Washington Post Live website to learn about upcoming conferences and view video clips from past events. Washington Post Live hosts events with the Post’s journalists and top-level government and business leaders, at the Washington Post headquarters in Washington, DC.
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David Adelman is the Founder and CEO of Reel Tributes, the premier producer of high- end personal history documentaries. David received his Masters in Business Administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he majored in Entrepreneurial Management, graduated as a Palmer Scholar (top 5% of his graduating class) and was selected as Wharton’s McGowan Fellow. David serves on the advisory board of Boston International, a nonprofit he co-founded. Before Wharton, David was an associate with Charlesbank Capital Partners, a middle-market private equity firm in Boston. He also worked for the management consulting firm Bain & Company, advising clients in Los Angeles, Australia, and India. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government, cum laude, from Harvard University (2004).
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