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Upcoming Trade Mission Highlights Key U.S. Economic Partnerships

January 13, 2014

Headshot of Danny Sebright, President of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council.

Danny Sebright is President of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council.

The Middle East is an excellent regional market for U.S. companies looking for opportunities overseas. U.S. merchandise exports to the region have grown by more than 50 percent since 2009, totaling $69.6 billion in 2012.

To help American companies achieve further success in the region, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is leading a business development mission to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to help American companies learn about potential opportunities and make important contacts with business and government leaders.

We spoke with Danny Sebright, President of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council, to get perspective on our important economic relationship with the U.A.E. and the Middle East as a whole. The Council is committed to the advancement of the commercial relationship between the United States and the United Arab Emirates, and it has made trade and foreign direct investment one of its key priorities in its advocacy efforts.

ITA: It looks like trade between the United States and the United Arab Emirates has risen pretty dramatically since 2010 – exports to the U.A.E. have almost doubled and imports from the UAE have more than doubled. Are there any specific catalysts for that trend? Do you expect continued growth?

Sebright: This rise began even before 2010, with the U.A.E. serving as the largest export market for U.S. goods and services in the broader Middle East, from Marrakesh to Bangladesh, for the last five years running. U.S.-U.A.E. trade, expected to exceed 2012’s record of nearly $25 billion in bilateral commerce, is a key contributor to President Obama’s National Export Initiative – launched in 2010 – and the Emirati leadership’s active and visionary efforts to diversify the federal economy and open U.A.E.’s corporate climate to increased foreign direct investment. The economic and trade relationship between the United States and United Arab Emirates has grown exponentially and solidified itself as a key pillar driving commercial and diplomatic engagement thanks in part to an active public sector and industry efforts. As a result, the U.A.E. is largely appreciated as a crucial destination, transit point, and supply chain link for America’s global businesses.

ITA: Are there any specific sectors that should be especially appealing for U.S. businesses in the U.A.E. and in the Middle East?

Sebright: The U.A.E.’s global position as a crossroads for business, trade, and travel has risen dramatically in recent years, with the U.S. playing a significant commercial role in delivering cutting-edge technology, industry thought leadership, and world-class infrastructure to the Emirates. This growth is a direct result of the country’s plans to position the U.A.E. as a global commercial hub by executing ambitious economic development and diversification goals across the industrial spectrum. A few key sectors highlighted in these comprehensive plans that present a wealth of opportunities for U.S. industry include: Infrastructure Development & Green Build; Energy Development (Renewable, Nuclear, Oil & Gas); Aerospace, Defense, Security; Civil and Commercial Aviation; Media, Tourism and Culture; Healthcare and Medicine; and Education.

ITA: What are some challenges for American businesses seeking opportunities in the U.A.E.?

Sebright: The governments of both countries are actively working hand-in-hand with private industry to open the doors for increased U.S.-U.A.E. trade and business – effectively tackling many new and traditional challenges along the way. The biggest challenges for American companies include: navigating the corporate and regulatory landscape of the U.A.E. before setting up shop, conducting thorough due diligence to establish necessary connections with a local partner in the U.A.E., and appreciating the cultural differences between an American boardroom and an Emirati one. Thankfully, turnkey services provided by the Commerce Department and other U.S. agencies geared toward promoting trade and investment are readily available. I would also encourage U.S. firms to plug-in to industry groups like the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council to learn more about opportunities and utilize as a resource when issues arise that affect business practices.

ITA: For businesses interested in infrastructure opportunities in the U.A.E. and Middle East, how will this trade mission help them take advantage of the opportunities available? What are the advantages of working with the Department of Commerce and partner organizations like the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council?

Sebright: It is truly an incredible time for U.S. infrastructure companies looking to do business in the U.A.E. and broader Middle East region – where market-driven consumer demand for world-class infrastructure is rising and opportunities abound. Let me first focus on opportunities in the Emirates. The nation’s leadership has committed hundreds of billions of dollars to airport expansion projects; the development of a federal multi-modal rail system in the U.A.E. set to ultimately link to neighboring countries; boost production from an active and diverse energy grid; and fund ongoing nation-wide road, clean water, and other infrastructure initiatives underway to drive economic growth. The recent awarding of World Expo 2020 hosting duties to Dubai will only cement these efforts. Preparations necessary for Dubai and the U.A.E. to host Expo 2020 are expected to require $500 billion in additional infrastructure investment, directly create approximately 250,000 local jobs, and boost federal efforts to increase global tourism traffic to the Emirates to 20 million by 2020.

In the broader region, commercial globalization and domestic economic development initiatives centered on building new hospitals, educational institutions, and energy diversification projects are creating opportunities for American businesses to bring knowledge and technology to the market. In Qatar, the country is focused on building world class infrastructure to support the 2022 World Cup. In Saudi Arabia, the leadership is focused on providing education and jobs for an increasingly youthful population, nearly 60 percent of whom are under the age of 24.

ITA: Is there any one piece of advice you’d offer to a business looking for opportunities in the U.A.E.?

Sebright: It is important for representatives of American industry operating, or looking to operate, in the U.A.E. to understand and appreciate that most transactions or corporate partnerships develop only after a personal rapport and a clear commitment to the Emirati partner and consumer has been established. In the U.A.E., the prevailing view is that a deal is only as good as the person, or people selling it.

ITA: What would you tell a business that hasn’t considered the U.A.E. as a potential export market?

Sebright: The U.A.E. provides an open corporate environment for American firms to conduct regional and global business in line with international standards and best practices. On top of that, the U.A.E. is centrally located within an eight hour flight of 60% of the world’s key emerging markets, developing local capacity to link up to many of the world’s supply chains, and actively looking to the U.S. as a key commercial and trade partner. Both stable and lucrative, the U.A.E. is a primed business destination with immense potential yet to be tapped.

ITA: Why is the U.S. economic relationship with the U.A.E. and the Middle East region so important?

Sebright: The economic relationship between the U.S. and U.A.E., in particular, is founded in mutual respect and complements close strategic ties formed over years of supporting global efforts to maintain regional security and political stability. U.S. economic engagement with the broader Middle East is incredibly important because the development and cultivation of a successful commercial relationship can boost diplomatic efforts already in motion to establish wider cultural understanding between key consumers and global citizens. Much of the recent political turbulence in the region has been intrinsically linked to communities featuring disenfranchised youth with few economic prospects or opportunities. As the U.A.E. has exemplified, political stability and economic stability go hand in hand.

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Looking South for Your Next Business Opportunities

January 10, 2014

Guest blog post by Michael Masserman, Executive Director for Export Policy, Promotion, and Strategy, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of CommerceThe Look South campaign is encouraging companies to seek export opportunities in Latin America.

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

This week Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced the Look South Initiative, a movement to help American businesses leverage the Free Trade Agreements the United States shares with 11 countries in Latin America.

The Initiative is an important new part of the Commerce Department’s Open for Business Agenda, supporting American companies looking to increase their global presence.

More and more businesses are exporting, which is leading to record levels of exports for the country. That supports the U.S. economy, and it helps create jobs here at home.

However, most companies that currently export are only taking advantage of one market. Companies exporting to one market average roughly $375,000 in export sales. For a company exporting to two-to-four export markets, that average nearly triples to $1 million in sales. It’s clear that exporting to additional markets improves a business’s bottom line.

For businesses looking to expand their export markets, “Looking South” is a simple way to start. More than half of our free trade agreements are in Latin America, which generally equates to greater ease in entering those markets. Tariffs are low if they exist at all, which can mean a lower cost of doing business.

The best news of all is that we have your back. The entire Department of Commerce is backing this effort along with the International Trade Administration (ITA), the State Department, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, Department of Agriculture, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Here are some ways for you to be a part of the movement:

  • Check out ITA’s Trade Winds – The Americas event in May to connect to a world of opportunity in the Americas. Our Commercial Service team will support you through a series of business-to-business meetings in Colombia, Panama, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
  • Visit export.gov/LookSouth to learn about federal resources available to support you. The site features research on a number of markets and industries, and provides tips about doing business in Latin American markets.
  • Visit your nearest Export Assistance Center to enlist the support of our international trade specialists.
  • Send an email to looksouth@trade.gov with any other questions.

Your business’s next big opportunities could be right here in your hemisphere.

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Handy Men and Women Keep the World’s Machinery Humming

January 7, 2014

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center. 

ERD Limited is a North Carolina-based company that has seen its number of export markets more than quintuple in less than three years. In that time span, its revenues from global sales went from four percent of total revenue to 25 percent.

Tom Robinson of ERD Limited sat down with ITA’s Doug Barry to discuss how his company expanded to so many export markets with support from the International Trade Administration and other government partners.

Barry: Describe your company. How did it start?

Robinson: ERD Limited is an electronic repair facility. It is engineer-owned and operated. We have been in business for about 20 years in Kernersville, NC. We’re different from our competitors in that we do what we call high-level electronic repairs, of all types and varieties, on basic boards to sophisticated robotics. We deal in what’s called “legacy electronics.”

Barry: Is that a fancy way of saying that you fix used stuff?

Robinson: Yes. Most people don’t realize it, but 85 percent of what’s made or moved in the world today is done so by equipment that is almost 14 years old. Although this is a technology and whizz-bang kind of society, and we think everything is new, it’s really not that way. Those pieces of equipment are breaking down, the manufacturers may be long gone or bought up by another company, and what is needed to support those electronics is no longer available. That’s where we come in.

Barry: Where do you do business?

Robinson: About two and a half years ago we were doing business in 10 countries, and because of our connection with the U.S. Commercial Service [part of ITA], the State of North Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Small Business Technical Development Center, we have gone from 10 countries to 65. Revenue from international business is about 25 percent for 2013, which is up from four percent just a few years ago.

Barry: How did you expand to so many markets in such a short time, especially since the majority of U.S. exporters sell to only one market?

Robinson: One of the things about our company that’s very unusual is we did this expansion and growth without having any salespeople in country. We developed a Web presence that is probably second to none right now, using YouTube and all the latest social networking. When there is a problem and someone needs equipment repaired, we pop up very high in search engines.

Second, the U.S. Commercial Service has been very instrumental in identifying places that we need to look at, and we have used their Gold Key Service. We just recently came back from China, and that was partially done through a Gold Key, in which we met two of the major manufacturers of cell phones in China and the world. And we had very successful one-on-one meetings with them, to the point where a relationship is forming.

Barry: What’s your advice for small companies that are interested in exporting in a more strategic way?

Robinson: My advice would be to take a look at yourself. Make sure that you’re ready to do these things and that you have an understanding of who you are, what your marketplace is, and the cultures that you will be dealing with, because they are different. If you walk into it blindly you may be thinking you’re winning when you’re actually losing, and actually winning when you think you’re losing. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth doing.

Barry: Are you a better company as a result of your international experience?

Robinson: Oh, we are more refined and defined than we ever were prior to starting the process. We have weekly meetings on what we can do better, how we can do it, and the igniter was the international marketplace and what it offered and the fact that there is so much business out there outside of the United States.

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‘Tis the Season For a Movie!

January 2, 2014

Andrea DaSilva is a Senior Analyst for Media & Entertainment Industries in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Digital Services Industries.

For the movie industry, this weekend is considered the official end of the holiday season.

For me, the holidays aren’t complete until I’ve caught a couple of new releases at the movie theater.  I’m not alone on that; box office sales are normally higher in November and December. According to Box Office Mojo, movie ticket sales during the 2012 holiday season were more than 26 percent of total box office sales for the year, totaling more than $2.6 billion. That’s a lot of movie tickets over a two-month period!

The film and television industry does more than just entertain us during the holiday season; it also supports the U.S. economy. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry directly supports 284,000 American jobs in fields like marketing, production, and distribution. The industry also supports more than 350,000 jobs in related businesses, from caterers to hardware suppliers.

As in other business sectors, exports are a huge contributor to the entertainment industry. U.S. exports of film and television recordings in 2012 were more than $16.2 billion.

We at the International Trade Administration are working hard with the film and television industry to support U.S. exports. Our staff based at Export Assistance Centers across the U.S. and at embassies and consulates around the world, as well as in-house export programs such as the International Buyer Program and the Market Development Cooperator Program (MDCP), serve to connect American producers with global buyers, licensors and distributors.

We worked closely with the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) at industry trade shows Filmart in Hong Kong and the American Film Market in Santa Monica. IFTA has been working hard to support exports of film and television products and we’ve been glad to support the organization through the MDCP.

We’ll continue to work with American producers to make sure that global consumers always have access to American creative content. That way, movie viewers around the world will always be able to enjoy their favorite new films over any holiday.

If you have questions about how the American media and entertainment industry competes overseas, please visit our website or contact me at andrea.dasilva@trade.gov.

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Come Help Brazil Fly!

December 23, 2013

Alexis Haakensen is an Aerospace Industry Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Transportation and Machinery.

Brazil is the world’s fourth largest domestic aviation market and has been a top 10 market for U.S. aerospace exports since 2004. Home to 3,500+ airports, more than 13,000 general aviation aircraft, and the biggest airline in Latin America, Brazil has opportunities for companies across the aviation industry.

To introduce U.S. firms to this readily expanding market, the International Trade Administration (ITA) at the Department of Commerce is organizing a trade mission to Brazil from May 12-16, 2014. The mission is designed for U.S. aviation and aerospace manufacturers and service providers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises interested in long-term business opportunities in Brazil, as well as the trade associations/organizations that represent them.

Participants will have two days of one-on-one business meetings in São Paulo with the option of adding other cities if desired. More information can be found on the web or by contacting:

This is the latest in a series of aviation programs with Brazil supported by ITA and the U.S. government. In 2012, the two governments launched the U.S-Brazil Aviation Partnership to foster closer ties in aviation between our two countries. During the past two years, government agencies from both sides have sponsored workshops, conferences, and industry matchmaking events to create new opportunities for industry. ITA has supported this initiative by providing webinars and supporting supply chain events and by advancing aviation policy issues under the joint recommendation of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum.

We hope to see many U.S. aviation businesses taking advantage of this mission and the many opportunities available in Brazil.

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Big Turnout in NYC Puts Spotlight on Exporting Anniversary

December 20, 2013

Curt Cultice is a Senior Communications Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Commercial Service.

An official proclamation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared Dec. 16 as "NY U.S. Export Assistance Center Day," in honor of 100 years of export assistance in the city.

An official proclamation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared Dec. 16 as “NY U.S. Export Assistance Center Day,” in honor of 100 years of export assistance in the city.

The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City was the setting on a wintery Monday, December 16, as more than 250 businesspeople and other participants turned out for the 100th anniversary celebration of the opening of the New York U.S. Export Assistance Center. Mayor Michael Bloomberg also proclaimed December 16 as “NY U.S. Export Assistance Center Day,” further recognizing the impressive milestone.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Judy Reinke keynoted the event, saying, “New York businesses recognized 100 years ago what we know holds true today: The world is full of consumers who highly value U.S.-made products.”

Last year, the New York City metro area exported $102.3 billion in merchandise exports to world markets, making it the 2nd largest metropolitan export source in the United States.

The NYC event, hosted by the New York District Export Council, also highlighted the importance of exporting through a panel discussion moderated by Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Field Operations Antwaun Griffin, with an array of award-winning exporters participating.

Many of the companies were previous Presidential “E Award” or U.S. Department of Commerce Export Achievement Certificate awardees who have benefitted from local U.S. Commercial Service Export Assistance Center services in their export endeavors.

Helene Herman, director of global marketing for Brooklyn-based Lee Spring, a manufacturer of wire springs, said at the event that the International Trade Administration’s Commercial Service as being of the “best kept secrets” in business and that more businesses should take advantage of the many export services offered. Lee Spring currently sells goods worldwide and has utilized a range of export services.

“Overseas clients often have a perception of American products as being higher quality,” she said, noting her company’s success in China as one example.

Acting Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Judy Reinke reminded businesses that exporting can be an important way to increase revenues.

Acting Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Judy Reinke reminded New York business leaders that exporting can be an important way to increase revenues.

Among the companies represented and benefitting from export assistance was family-owned Love & Quiches Gourmet of Long Island, which has utilized export counseling and Export-Import Bank financing to sell its gourmet foods to multiple world markets; The Jump Apparel Group of Manhattan, which is marketing its innovative dress and sportswear line of clothing in more than 20 international stores and home shopping networks; and Lumi-Solair, which recently made its first international sale, supplying  renewable, grid-free power equipment to India. The sale enabled the firm to sustain local NYC jobs.

Exporting is more beneficial than ever, even for the smallest businesses looking to strengthen their bottom line. This was further demonstrated by the entrepreneurial spirit at the event’s “International Trade Showcase,” where program attendees perused the products and services exhibited by 20 successful local exporters – selling everything from hop extracts and oils, to wire springs, hydraulic technology, language software, and export management services, to name a few products.

Summing up the importance of exporting, Reinke added: “We remain focused on reaching President Obama’s National Export Strategy goals because we know that in today’s global economy, if you’re not exporting, you’re falling behind.”

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Secretary Pritzker to Lead Business Development Mission to Middle East

December 12, 2013

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will lead a senior-executive Business Development Mission to the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar March 8-14, 2014.

The trade mission is critical to building on export growth and furthering the Obama Administration’s efforts to help U.S. businesses compete and succeed in the global economy. It is also an important component of the Department of Commerce’s “Open for Business Agenda,” which prioritizes trade and investment.

This mission will highlight export opportunities for U.S. businesses in three leading industry sectors with an emphasis on project management and engineering (including construction, architecture and design), renewable energy (solar, wind, waste-to-energy), smart grid and energy efficiency, and environmental technologies (including water/wastewater; air pollution control; and waste management).

Participating U.S. companies will meet with prescreened potential partners, agents, distributors, representatives, and licensees.  The agenda will also include meetings with high-level national and local government officials, networking opportunities, and country and industry briefings.

Connecting U.S. businesses with opportunities in new markets is a fundamental to the mission of the Department of Commerce and its ‘Open for Business Agenda. This is a particularly exciting time to be looking toward the Middle East and countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar as a destination for U.S. exports, especially in the infrastructure sector. Exports now support nearly 10 million U.S. jobs, up 1.3 million since 2009.

Businesses interested in participating in the upcoming business development mission, please visit the mission website to apply.

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Export Promotion Makes U.S. the Destination for One-Stop Shopping

December 9, 2013

Richard Swanson is the Pacific South Regional Network Director for the International Trade Administration’s U.S. Commercial Service.

Werner Escher, far right, receives the Peace Through Commerce Medal Award from Deputy Under Secretary Ken Hyatt at the IPW Tourism Summit in June 2013. At far left, Roger Dow, President of the U.S. Travel Association.

Werner Escher (right) receives the Peace Through Commerce Medal Award from then-Acting Deputy Under Secretary of International Trade Ken Hyatt (center) at the IPW Tourism Summit in June 2013. At far left is Roger Dow, President of the U.S. Travel Association.

It is no accident that guests travel from countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, or regions like Middle East to seek out top brands, fashion, and dining in the United States.

Werner Escher has understood this for four decades. As the director of domestic and international markets for South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., Escher has implemented a strategic plan to cater to international visitors.

His efforts have made South Coast Plaza a major shopping destination for foreign visitors to Southern California, and he was recognized this year by the Department of Commerce with a Peace through Commerce Medal.

“The number one activity of people who travel is shopping,” Escher explains. “We chose to expand South Coast Plaza’s global reach and in so doing placed the retail sector as an integral part of attracting in-bound travelers to the United States.”

That is a customer base that continues to grow. Travel and tourism exports experienced a seven percent increase in the first half of 2013 over the same time period in 2012, totaling $87.1 billion.

What began as several modest promotional trips to Japan in the 1970s blossomed into a truly global marketing effort. In 1987, South Coast Plaza launched its “California Dream Promotion,” one of the largest overseas promotions in the history of the state. It put the shopping center on the map next to other Southern California attractions like movie studios, amusement parks, and zoos.

South Coast Plaza now actively markets in a half-dozen countries, and its foreign language assistance program has translators that speak more than 40 languages.

South Coast Plaza has recently turned its attention toward the growing number of visitors from China. Escher has teamed up with the U.S. Commercial Service to conduct training sessions for retailers on hosting visitors from China, and has spearheaded South Coast Plaza’s annual Lunar New Year celebrations, drawing visitors from China and throughout Asia.

Further solidifying the role of retail in tourism promotion, South Coast Plaza has also actively supported the Orange County Tourism Council’s new China marketing office that opened in Shanghai earlier this year.

South Coast Plaza annually welcomes more than 22 million visitors and a significant number are from overseas. According to Escher, approximately one-third of South Coast Plaza’s annual travelers come from the visitor market segment. South Coast Plaza’s gross sales, approaching $2 billion, is among the highest in the United States and supports thousands of American jobs.

South Coast Plaza has become an important tourism promotion asset in Southern California, contributing to the marketability of the region as a key destination for international visitors. Escher and his team work with the Orange County Tourism Council, the State of California and Brand USA to promote tourism to the United States from across the globe.

In June of 2013, Werner Escher was recognized for “exceptional vision and leadership in growing travel and tourism for the United States in support of President Obama’s National Export Initiative” when he was presented with the Peace through Commerce Medal by then-Acting Deputy Under Secretary of International Trade Ken Hyatt in a ceremony at the International Pow Wow (IPW) Tourism Summit in Las Vegas.

Werner Escher and the South Coast Plaza are excellent examples of the clients that ITA’s Commercial Service help expand their exports and increase their revenues.

Whether you are exporting travel & tourism services, or another product or service, please contact us to find out how we can help your firm achieve success in international markets!

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Cosmetics Make for Beautiful Exports!

December 5, 2013

Elisa Martucci is a Commercial Specialist with the International Trade Administration’s Commercial Service, based in Rome, Italy.

Data show that U.S. exports in cosmetics and beauty products have increased every year since 2009, from $8.1 billion to $10.4 billion.

Data show that U.S. exports in cosmetics and beauty products have increased every year since 2009.

The beauty of U.S. cosmetics isn’t just in the eye of the beholder; it’s also in the eye of the economy. Cosmetics and beauty products are significant contributors to American exports and support jobs throughout the country.

U.S. exports of cosmetics products have increased every year since 2009, and the International Trade Administration’s Commercial Service wants to help more American businesses in this sector find success overseas.

One way we’re helping is by hosting a series of webinars on how businesses in the cosmetics and beauty products industry can increase their exports to Europe. We hosted webinars for 33 companies looking to do business in the Nordic region and Eastern Europe, and we have another webinar focusing on Western Europe on Dec. 11.

Our specialists based throughout the continent help businesses like yours increase exports every day. We can provide unmatched provide insight into the European market, including:

  • European distribution channels;
  • Insights on sales and marketing;
  • Guidance on regulations, including labeling and documentation;
  • And opportunities to promote your products.

Our commercial specialists all over the United States are also available all year to help your company compete in Europe and in markets all over the world.

You may have never considered taking your products overseas before, but I hope you’ll contact our team to learn about opportunities to help your business grow by competing overseas. Cosmetics and beauty products exports were more than $9.5 billion in 2012, and we’re on pace to beat that in 2013.

We want your business to be among those that are increasing exports, finding new markets, enjoying greater profits, and supporting growth.

Register now for our Dec. 11 webinar, or contact your nearest Export Assistance Center today!

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“Squeezing In” to New International Markets

December 2, 2013
Rep. David Price and ITA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Domestic Operations Antwaun Griffin recognize Urban Planet Mobile with an Export Achievement Certificate at the 2013 Discover Forum.

Rep. David Price, D-NC, (left) and ITA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Domestic Operations Antwaun Griffin (right) recognize Urban Planet Mobile with an Export Achievement Certificate at the 2013 Discover Forum.

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center. 

Urban Planet Mobile (UPM), based in Durham, N.C., specializes in education applications that can be used on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to teach users to speak English. The company started in 2008, and has used services from the International Trade Administration’s (ITA) Commercial Service to develop a customer base in 38 countries. Doug Barry of ITA’s Global Knowledge Center sat down with UPM founder Brian Oliversmith during a recent conference to discuss the company and how government support has helped UPM succeed overseas.

Barry: What’s your product and where are you selling it?

Oliversmith: When we told people we were doing mobile education they thought we would be training our mothers how to use their cell phone. What we do is develop education products we can deliver over the mobile networks.

Our best-selling product is Urban English. We’re selling it from Burma to Malaysia and Indonesia in the Southeast Asia region to Jordan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Our latest effort has been a large launch in Guatemala, Colombia, Panama, and we are now going into Nicaragua.

I would say about 85-90 percent of our business is export.

Barry: Are you growing and adding jobs?

Oliversmith: We are growing and adding. We have about 28 employees, and we’re growing both globally and here locally. I’m proud to say we just hired a recent intern yesterday who is going to be running a user interface design, and she came from the Durham Design School. We’re interviewing another fellow from Duke this summer.

Barry: Any humorous stories about different kinds of English and how they’re learned?

Oliversmith: It’s interesting, when I went to Indonesia, one of the Indonesian guys said something about “Let me squeeze back in” because we were in a very, very narrow hallway. He said: “Squeeze in. I know that phrase. I learned that yesterday on Urban English.” We teach a more relaxed, casual communication. We even have a line called Urban English Hip Hop, which uses Hip Hop to teach conversation.

Barry: Is your company a better company as a result of its international experience?

Oliversmith: I absolutely think our company is a better and stronger company because of our international exposure and the reason why is because it has caused us to diversify our workforce from day one. In our little team, we have people from Santiago, Chile, and Lithuania to people who are from Russia and Korea, and Japan. And many of them have been with us three or four years. It gives us a global perspective. It’s very hard to do business worldwide from a very American-centric perspective.

Barry: Do you mentor non-exporting companies in the area and what do you say to them?

Oliversmith: We actually do. We have a strategic relationship and a partnership with a large education company, Measurement Incorporated, here in Durham that employs about 400 people but doesn’t do any exporting. They’ve started an alliance with us, and are seeing what demand is for some of their products in an external market.I think it’s started to really open up their eyes to the opportunity they have internationally.

What I tell people is there is a great big world out there that is very, very hungry for education products, especially American education products. If they start working with some of the folks at the U.S. Commercial Service, where we started, they can get some good guidance on where to start.

Barry: Can you say more about the difference government assistance made in where you are today?

Oliversmith: The year 2008 was a really tough time to start a company, because this little recession happened about five months later. So we had to be very careful where we were going to spend marketing budgets and resources.

Our first major investment was to fly to a conference at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, co-sponsored by the U.S. Commercial Service. I sat down with about 18 Commercial Service officers from all over Asia where I had never been. I started to narrow down where we were going to first jump into the market, where we would start to spend our real resources. It was an amazing three days. I learned more in that conference than I could have learned in two years flying around on airplanes. Since then we now invest in those countries and are up and operational in many of them.

Barry: And your local export assistance center, have they been helpful?

Oliversmith: Incredible. Before we knew it, we were in a wonderful university they found for us in Burma, and less than nine months later we launched our product there.

I think a lot of companies have the wrong attitude that they need to wait until they’re a certain size to export, and really, exporting can help take you to that certain size. I would encourage people to start at an earlier stage to see what they can learn from the U.S. Commercial Service.  How owners, without having to go to all these countries, can learn a lot about where they should start.

Go early. Don’t wait.

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