Growing an export base can be a complex task even for well-established businesses, but a new assistance center on the University of Toledo campus aims to help northwest Ohio enterprises navigate foreign markets more easily.
Up and running since midsummer, the International Trade Assistance Center offers help to local firms with export issues ranging from market research and export readiness assessments to overcoming cultural and language barriers.
“We’re trying to promote growth through exporting, from somebody who’s completely new to exporting to someone who’s trying to find a new market,” said Paola Greene, the center’s trade consultant.
The assistance center focuses on small to midsize companies that have found success in the domestic market. The programs are free.
Though the center is located at UT’s main campus, it operates as a partnership with Cleveland State University. CSU administers the program and secured the grant funding that makes the center possible.
Ms. Greene, a native of Costa Rica, came to the center from Toledo medical device maker Bionix Development Corp., where she was international sales manager for medical technologies.
UT previously worked with Cleveland State to develop its Global Target program. That eight-month, $1,595 course covers in depth various exporting issues and includes access to the U.S. Commercial Service Gold Key matching services, which helps companies set up appointments with prospective trade partners and can assist with travel and interpretation services.
Thomas Sharkey, director of the Global Business Development Institute and interim dean of UT’s College of Business and Innovation, said the new program was a natural fit based on that existing relationship and UT’s push to help more companies develop successful export strategies. Though the programs have a similar purpose, he says he believes each will serve different types of businesses.
“My feeling about this is if we can get five to seven companies a year exporting that wouldn’t be, and if Paola can get another five to 10, we’ll have had a significant impact on the region, and that’s what we want to do,” he said.
There are International Trade Assistance Centers across the state, but in recent years there hadn’t been one in Toledo. Paul Zito, vice president of international development at the Regional Growth Partnership, said that was a significant issue, as crafting a successful export strategy isn’t something that can be done passively.
“I see the value of an ITAC in having somebody in the Toledo area that can devote a good amount of time to helping a local company develop their export strategy — getting to know the company, the product, and the culture of the company on a very personal basis.”
As for the importance of exporting, Mr. Zito says the last several years were the best case study. “As the economic crisis hit the United States, many companies that were not exporting suffered tremendously,” he said. “Those that were exporting found gains in some of the overseas markets to offset the losses they were seeing in the United States.”
As an example, Mr. Zito tells the story of an auto-parts supplier in northwest Ohio. Starting in 2004, the company — the name of which he said he could not divulge — began exporting to Canada and Mexico, and expanded to the United Kingdom and Germany. When recession hit the United States, the company’s U.S. sales dropped 30 percent. Because of its export business, the company actually grew instead of having to lay off its Ohio employees.
“Now that the U.S. market has grown, they’re in great shape,” he said. “If they weren’t exporting, it could have been a loss of 100 jobs. Exporting is a great way to spread your risk.”
Ms. Greene said the center is in the initial phases of working with several businesses, including helping one translate its Web site to reach the Latin American market.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.