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This is a guest blog by Sandra Choi, Development Analyst for foreign investment and international research at the City of Norfolk Department of Development
Last month, five companies from Norfolk, Virginia and surrounding municipalities completed ExporTech, a national export technical assistance program that helps local manufacturers develop and implement an international strategy to boost export sales. The program is jointly offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the U.S. Export Assistance Centers of the United States Department of Commerce. ExporTech applies a structured export strategy development process that assists companies in accelerating their growth.
Over the course of 12 weeks, senior executives from each company participated in a series of customized workshops to develop a written export plan. At the final session, their export strategies were vetted by a panel of trade professionals, including trade specialists from the International Trade Administration. After completing the program, companies will begin the implementation of their strategy alongside a robust network of partner organizations that contributed to the successful conclusion of the Commonwealth’s first ExporTech program.
Virginia’s first class of ExporTech graduates includes technology manufacturers, Descal-A-Matic, Grandwatt Electric, Mission Mobility, Netarus and Paramount Sleep. The participating companies represented the diverse manufacturing community of Norfolk and the Hampton Roads region. They ranged from start-up firms like Netarus, a manufacturer of wireless video sensor technology, to Paramount Sleep, a third generation family-owned luxury mattress manufacturer with deep roots in Norfolk. The class also included companies such as Descal-A-Matic, a green non-chemical water treatment technology company, and Grandwatt Electric, a portable light tower and diesel & gas powered generator manufacturer. Both companies have a history of international sales but wanted to develop a refined targeted plan for export growth. As a defense contractor, Mission:Mobility, a manufacturer of ‘at the edge of the network’ mobile communications equipment, wanted to target new markets as part of their strategy to diversify revenue streams.
Effectively aligning and coordinating the individual programs of federal and local organizations within the Commonwealth was crucial to the success of this pilot program in Norfolk. Through the integration of all the export-related services offered by the partner organizations and functioning as a single team, ExporTech was able to provide a holistic export roadmap for the participating companies. The U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) in Richmond was a key partner to the City of Norfolk and GENEDGE Alliance, in the development and implementation of this program. The USEAC counseled companies on the fundamentals of exporting and worked with them to develop their plans. Through its global network, the Richmond USEAC is currently working to connect each company to potential overseas partners through the International Trade Administration’s Gold Key Service and other on-the-ground support in target markets. Other ExporTech partner organizations include Virginia Small Business Development Council, Old Dominion University and the Port of Virginia. Additional sponsorship was provided by FedEx Corporation and Fulton Bank.
Norfolk is setting a foundation to build a trade ecosystem that allows local firms to participate in an export-intensive economy. Central to this new economic development model is to introduce new resources that support the growth and expansion of small- and medium-sized firms. In addition to organizing technical assistance programs such as ExporTech, Norfolk introduced another key resource for exporting firms: access to capital. The Global Initiatives Fund, one of four new NorfolkFirst investment programs, will provide patient flexible capital for businesses that are looking to begin or expand their export activities. Both manufacturers and service exporters are eligible for the Global Initiatives Fund. Initially capitalized at $250,000, local firms can access the loan fund to finance a broad range of activities; participate in trade missions, connect with prospective buyers or support working capital needs. The Global Initiatives Fund is the first of its kind in Virginia and the United States. No other municipality offers direct access to capital for its trade community.
As it continues to assist the first ExporTech cohort with the implementation of their plans, the network of ExporTech organizational partners will kick off regional recruitment efforts for the second class of Virginia’s ExporTech participants in March. With trade growth becoming an important cornerstone of economic development strategies for metropolitan economies across the nation, programs like ExporTech play a crucial role in bridging the resources of the private-public sector and different levels of government to assist local companies seeking export assistance.
Since 2007, 141 ExporTech programs have been delivered in 31 states with more than 745 participating companies. Based on its recent success in Norfolk, companies in this area will continue to have the opportunity to benefit from this program.