Program helps area businesses go global

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    Allen Faulhaber works on machine parts at Pioneer Industrial Systems.

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  • Over the last few years, about $5 billion worth of goods has been exported from the metro Toledo region of Lucas, Fulton, Wood, and Ottawa counties to all parts of the world.

    From auto parts to machinery to petroleum products to glass to corn and soybeans, the area’s businesses ship enough goods overseas to support over 11,000 jobs directly and another 14,000 jobs indirectly.

    But it isn’t just bigger companies like Dana, Libbey, or The Andersons shipping out all the goods.

    Troy Martin, innovation manager, stands in Pioneer Industrial Systems on August 30, 2018.
    Troy Martin, innovation manager, stands in Pioneer Industrial Systems on August 30, 2018.

    Overall, northwest Ohio has about 1,500 exporters. The majority are small to medium-sized enterprises, and many more would love the opportunity to open up markets but they are unsure where to start.

    “There’s so much opportunity here for these smaller companies,” said Sabrina D’Onofrio, chief of the Export Assistance Network, part of the Ohio Small Business Development Center at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

    Fortunately, “Express Success,” a seven-year old program, is designed to teach companies how to break into international markets or just become better at doing so if they are already exporting.

    “It’s 10 sessions, and we meet once a month. Each session is based on some aspect of exporting,” Ms. D’Onofrio said. “So you have international sales, that is, how to sell your product overseas, you have logistics, marketing, international banking.

    “We also teach cross-cultural communications because you need to know what the customs are in other countries. For example, you don’t wear red in some countries because this signifies disrespect. Or don’t get drunk at a luncheon because that’s considered offensive,” she said.

    “Basically, they learn how to develop their export plan and how to execute that plan,” she said.

    The Chamber of Commerce is hosting Export Success this year after the program spent its first seven years hosted by the University of Toledo, which will still be involved with the program.

    It was initially modeled after Global Target, a similar program at Cleveland State University, then adapted to fit the needs of the Toledo region.

    “Of all of the export assistance programs that I have encountered all over the world, Export Success is the most effective and certainly the greatest value in terms of cost,” said Paul Zito, vice president of international development for the Regional Growth Partnership.

    Jake Rothenberger wires a panel for the equioment at Pioneer Industrial Systems on August 30, 2018.
    Jake Rothenberger wires a panel for the equioment at Pioneer Industrial Systems on August 30, 2018.

    The program, which will start the first of its 10 sessions on Sept. 21 and finish on June 21, costs $2,000 for Chamber members and $2,300 for nonmembers. Firms can send two participants and can send different people to each session. They even can seek an Ohio Image Grant that helps them to be reimbursed for 50 percent of the program’s cost.

    Pioneer Industrial Systems of Alvordton, Ohio in Williams County, was no stranger to exporting, having been shipping its assembly line automation equipment to China and Mexico for about 10 years.

    But, “Every time we were exporting we were stumbling around in the dark. We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” said Todd Hendricks, Jr., the company’s chief operating officer.

    “I feel like this program gave us a flashlight,” he said.

    Express Success gave Pioneer executives “a ton of information,” Mr. Hendricks said. The knowledge included tips about trade shows and website language translation.

    “We got a website intern and half of his wages were paid by a state program we learned about. If we didn’t have that connection with the Chamber and the Ohio Development Services Agency, we wouldn’t have known about that,” he said.

    While attending the program hasn’t increased the firm’s exports just yet, it has made Pioneer leadership more confident about its exporting abilities.

    “We’re pushing into new markets because of it and spending less time and money fixing things,” Mr. Hendricks said.

    Chad Gottschalk, international accounts manager for Bionix Development Corp. of Toledo, first went through Export Success in 2015 and has signed up for it every year since.

    “Whenever I bring on a new employee, it’s almost mandatory that they go through Export Success,” said Mr. Gottschalk, who had an international marketing degree but no real exporting experience when he started at Bionix, a medical-device firm, as an intern in 2012.

    Like Pioneer Industrial System, Bionix had exporting experience, having shipped its products mainly to Canada for 15 years. But Export Success got the company to look beyond North America.

    “We’ve expanding significantly. We’ve got some sort of trading partner now in every part of the world,” Mr. Gottschalk said, adding that the company most recently opened up markets in Asia.

    “I would not say it’s all because of it, but going to Export Success I heard from these other companies, ‘Oh, if you’re in medical sales, you really ought to check out Medica [trade show] in Germany,’” he said.

    “We just have a better understanding of how exports works, and that just impresses customers,” he said.

    The fee covers the cost of the program, which has a partnership with UPS allowing participating firms to enroll in the U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Matching Service program.

    That gives companies access to tailored services through the U.S. Commercial Service to help arrange business meetings, find government contacts, get help with licensing issues, and obtain market research.

    The U.S. Commercial Service is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

    Ms. D’Onofrio said the program was well situated at the university, “but we kind of had been talking and it just made sense for the Chamber to take that over.

    “The university did a great job, and they were very happy and helpful to make the transition, but basically they said, ‘You have a larger reach. We are not constricted on how we can market things,” she said.

    Typically, six to eight firms join the program each year with and transportation-related companies the most common participants.

    Thus far, three companies have signed up for Export Success, but the Chamber hopes others will too.

    “The more companies the better. We don’t discriminate based on size,” Ms. D’Onofrio said.

    Contact Blade Business Writer Jon Chavez at or 419-724-6128.