Lee Springer, left, and Vinod Jain, at the Regional Growth Partnership headquarters, work toward increasing the area's trade with the world.
Companies involved in international trade face a triple whammy - concern about travel abroad in the aftermath of Sept. 11 terrorism, a reeling world economy, and the continued strength of the U.S. dollar that makes American-made goods relatively more expensive.
“The dollar has been strong for a year or two,” said Loren Roth, director of international sales for Sauder Woodworking Co. in Archbold. Many economies are depressed, he said, but exports of ready-to-assemble furniture and shelving remain about 10 percent of Sauder's business. “We're actually growing, but [still] down from the peak.”
La-Z-Boy, Inc., in Monroe, hopes to increase its business abroad, largely through its plants and distributorships overseas, said Richard Micka, vice president of administration. “It's business as usual,” remarked Mr. Micka. “We're actually more aggressive than before.”
About 5 percent of the furniture maker's volume has come from abroad historically, “but we'll probably shoot for 20 percent,” he said.
La-Z-Boy, whose most famous product is its recliner chair, recently exhibited its wares at a large international show in Germany. “Motion furniture is a fairly new concept in the rest of the world,” said Mr. Micka. This could improve our marketing potential offshore. Trade is a big thing for our future plans.”
Another area firm hoping to boost exports is Therma-Tru Corp., of Maumee, a maker of fiberglass and steel doors and door lights. “Sept. 11 didn't hurt the building industry much, and the mild weather helped,” said Barbara McDermott, credit manager. Exports account for only about 1 percent of Therma-Tru's sales, she said, but the firm recently added three employees with the goal of increasing exports.
Others companies are struggling just to get exports back to where they were before Sept. 11 and the economic slump.
“We're still doing some [exports],” said Dan Wehrle, a spokesman for Weldon F. Stump Co., Inc., a Toledo distributor of used metalworking machinery and other industrial equipment. “But it's not like it was.” Exports once accounted for more than 40 percent of Stump's volume, he added, but it has sunk to 15 to 20 percent.
Biofit Engineered Products, near Waterville, has felt the technology pinch. “International trade in our business is not doing very well right now,” said Edward Metzger, vice president of sales for the firm that makes adjustable ergonomic chairs and other products for use in electronic “clean rooms.”
In better times, such high-tech exports make up about 5 to 10 percent of Biofit's business, but worldwide demand is down, said Mr. Metzger. “Cisco and Intel were [big customers], but last year they bought nearly nothing,” he noted. “We're waiting for inventory to go down so people start ordering again. I'm hoping like heck it will turn around.”
Many of the area companies involved in global trade belong to the Toledo Area International Trade Association - a 28-year-old group with 200 individual members representing 140 organizations.
The association moved out of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce offices this year and affiliated with Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership, headquartered in Edison Plaza. Association President Vinod Jain sees the new alliance “strengthening our market focus” and expanding the trade group's services.
Dr. Jain, director of international business programs at Bowling Green State University, said the new arrangement will boost membership and enlarge TAITA's role to include areas like foreign investment. “We now have several large companies as members,” he said.
Lee Springer, an association board member and director of international business development for the growth partnership, is hopeful that the expanded TAITA can help area firms develop new trade markets.
“We're trying to promote markets like Latin America, and trying to promote trade between Toledo and South America, and Africa as well,” he said.
Hundreds of Toledo-area companies sell their products and services abroad. Among them are law firms, banks, business consultants, import-export services, freight forwarders, and insurance companies. Here are some that export manufactured goods: