Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

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Helping Feed the World Through Exports

September 13, 2013

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

Zeigler Bros, Inc. (Zeigler), founded by brothers Ty and Leroy Zeigler, started as a local producer of poultry and livestock feed for farmers in the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, area in 1935. Leroy’s son, Tom, took over and changed the company’s direction to focus on research and development of specialty animal foods and aquatic diets. Today, the company continues to develop new and innovative technologies and manufactures more than 300 products, including at two facilities in Pennsylvania, and exports their goods to between 40 and 50 countries each year.

Zeigler has worked closely with the International Trade Administration (ITA) to support its export growth, and is a 2013 recipient of the Presidential E-Award for Export Excellence, the highest government honor for increasing exports. Doug Barry, a Senior International Trade Specialist in ITA’s Global Knowledge Center, spoke with Zeigler’s international sales manager Chris Stock about the business and its exporting success.

Barry: Tell us about the business and what you produce.

Stock: We’re a manufacturer of specialty animal feeds. Our focus is aquaculture feeds, specifically for fish shrimp farms. We also do feeds for pet exotic animals. And we’re also involved with the biomedical research industry, helping provide specialty diets for the animals that serve as health models in research.

Barry: You’re not a Zeigler Brother. What’s your position with the company?

Stock: I manage the sales of the company in Asia. But I strictly focus on the aquaculture area, which is where a lot of our attention and efforts are involved. I’m only involved with export; I don’t do any domestic business. My eyes are overseas.

Barry: How long have you been exporting?

Stock: Zeigler’s been exporting for quite a while. It’s very ingrained in the company culture, which is a great reason for our success. In the mid ’80s is probably about the time it started. And our involvement with the aquaculture industry really helped pull us and propel us into export, because aquaculture is a very international business, and it happens more outside the U.S. than inside the U.S.

Barry: Tell us about the extent of your exports and how they contribute to the company’s success?

Stock: Exports have expanded rapidly, especially in the last handful of years. They now encompass a majority of our business, slightly over 50 percent. We’re exporting to between 40 and 50 different countries every year. Last count was 43; some come and go. But it’s a huge part of our business and it’s where we see the most growth opportunity. If we want to grow our business, it’s going to be through overseas markets.

We certainly have business in the U.S. and that’s important to us, but the U.S. market won’t be growing at the rate that the international markets are.

Barry: What markets are you focusing on, going forward?

Stock: Areas of interest most specifically are Africa and Southeast Asia. There are a number of countries in these areas – West Africa is a hotspot for us, specifically Nigeria and Ghana. Then in Southeast Asia, we look at Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, China, Philippines, Thailand, some of these countries.

Barry: What is attractive to you about Africa?

Stock: Africa is on the cusp, I think. A lot of people see the opportunity, so it’s a great time to get in early, because it’s a huge emerging middle class that’s developing there with spending power. They need things more than any other part of the world. They have a lack of access to some of the higher-tech products and things that the U.S. can offer.

And there’s reason to take it slow when entering Africa and be cautious, but the opportunity outweighs the risk, there’s no doubt about that.

Barry: And do you think that Zeigler is a better company because of exporting, and if so, in what ways?

Stock: Absolutely. It diversifies the company, allows us to be insulated from issues in one market or another. Our business is subject to seasonality as well, and it has reduced the impact of seasonality on our manufacturing. And it just connects us throughout the world. The Zeigler brand is known in our industry throughout the world, and that’s a tremendous privilege.

And it challenges us. We are able to take opportunities and things we learn in one country and apply them elsewhere. So we’re always learning and one of the great parts about our job is we’re connecting people throughout the world and bringing ideas from one place to the other, whether or not they directly impact our product.

Barry: And what about the U.S. government? What has it done for you?

Stock: The Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce is kind of a go-to for us when we run into issues. There’s always something popping up. When you export to 40 to 50 countries a year, there’s going to be something at any given point on your plate. And so it’s a common go-to kind of hub for us.

In general, we come to them when we have export regulatory issues and we need somebody inside the government to guide us. That’s a big thing about exporting is knowing that you don’t know it all and you’re always going to need support. The government has helped bring us into new markets. We went on a trade mission to Ghana when we were getting our Africa business warmed up and met people there that are clients now and important partners.

Barry: Advice for other U.S. exporters or for companies considering it?

Stock: It’s a no-brainer. You should be exporting. If you’re not, start learning about it, talk to other exporters and just go for it. I think the key things to exporting are persistence and patience.

You have to realize that when you get in this, it may not be immediate sales, it may take years, but you have to have the long-term vision. If you’re willing to go through a couple of ups and downs, it can pay off in dividends. If you don’t enter the export market, you’re limiting your sales in a big way, no doubt about it.

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Discover What’s Next for Your Business at the Discover Forum

August 22, 2013

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

Shirreef Loza and Frances Selema are Senior International Trade Specialists with the International Trade Administration’s Export Assistance Center in Raleigh, NC.

The Discover Forum will be held in Raleigh, NC, from Sept. 16-18.

There are plenty of questions for a small business looking to start exporting. What markets are best suited for your company’s products? How can you compete with larger companies? How can you get paid for your products? What kind of research do you need to do to begin exporting?

Luckily, you can get answers to all these questions and more at the 2013 Discover Global Forum in Raleigh, NC, Sept. 16-18.

This two-day summit will feature some of the world’s most knowledgeable people when it comes to exporting. Trade specialists from around the globe will be on hand to share inside tips about doing business in established and emerging markets, from Africa to Asia and the Middle East to South America.

Update: Check out a video about the Discover Forum 2013.

These specialists work every day in some of the world’s fastest growing economies – markets with consumers who are actively seeking the made-in-USA label. They know the best ways to bring your products to customers around the world.

The Discover Forum is the perfect opportunity for any U.S. business looking to begin exporting or to expand exports.

There’s no question that exporting is a great way to grow just about any business. It can protect your company from fluctuations in a single regional or national economy. It can expand your customer base, increasing sales and profits. It can also help create jobs in your town and boost the local economy.

We’ve shared several stories recently about just a fraction of the companies who have experienced new levels of success because of exporting.

Your company could be the next success story.

We at the International Trade Administration are proud to partner with the North Carolina District Export Council and other organizations to host the Discover Forum because exports are crucial to supporting the American economic recovery. Exports support millions of jobs, and that leads to greater prosperity here at home.

If your business is ready to start or increase exporting, register now for the Discover Forum. You can also follow the Forum on Twitter or contact us for more information.

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Why is Everyone Talking About Africa?

August 5, 2013

Claudia Easton is an intern in the International Trade Administration’s Office of the National Export Initiative and Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee. She’s studying Economics and Political Science at Amherst College.

With the President’s recent trip to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as the announcement of two new trade initiatives, the spotlight is on Africa – and with good reason.

While speaking at the Business Leaders Forum in Tanzania, President Obama spoke of beginning a new level of economic engagement with Africa. The Doing Business in Africa Campaign (DBIA) is part of the president’s strategy, and the International Trade Administration (ITA) is proud to join other government agencies to support  DBIA initiatives that are helping U.S. businesses compete on the continent.

Trade Africa aims to facilitate expanded trade on the continent. Its initial focus will be on the East African Community (EAC), a market with increasingly stable and pro-business regulations. The plan will support increased U.S.-EAC trade and investment, EAC trade competitiveness, and regional integration. The United States seeks to expand this initiative to other regional economic communities on the continent.

Power Africa is intended to build on Africa’s enormous power potential to expand electricity access to the more than two-thirds of the population that is without power. The President pledged $7 billion in U.S. government support, in addition to $9 billion in private money, over the next five years to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. Power Africa will help attract investment in Africa’s energy sector, build capacity for reform in the energy sector, and encourage transparent and responsible natural resource management.

ITA partnered with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to share information about the Power Africa initiative in a Twitter chat in July.

These initiatives will rely heavily on public-private partnerships to succeed. We’re glad to have an excellent partner in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who invited Under Secretary of Commerce Francisco Sanchez and other government leaders to speak with businesses about support available under DBIA.

We’ve also highlighted stories of how a heavy machinery exporter and an environmental and energy company have seen recent success on the continent, with help from ITA.

The bottom line is this: Africa is open for business. And with the weight of the president and the administration behind these initiatives, there has never been a better time for U.S. companies of all sizes to take advantage of the enormous opportunities on the continent.

If your business is ready to make Africa a priority, your local U.S. Export Assistance Center can help connect you with federal resources and more information about specific opportunities.

For more information on Doing Business in Africa campaign, please see additional links below:

Doing Business in Africa Campaign:

Main Campaign Page

DBIA Updates on the ITA Blog

Remarks by Under Secretary of International Trade Francisco Sánchez to U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum

Power Africa:

FACT SHEET: Power Africa

Blog: Powering Africa

Remarks by President Obama at Ubungo Symbion Power Plant

#Power4All on Twitter

Trade Africa:

FACT SHEET: Trade Africa

Remarks by President Obama at Business Leaders Forum (Trade Africa)

Video of President Obama Speaking at A Business Leaders Forum in Tanzania

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How a Career Change Led to a Successful Export Business in Africa

June 21, 2013

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.

HERO Florida President Leslie Smith (right) stands in a gold mine in Ghana with his son, HERO Vice President Carlton Smith.

HERO Florida President Leslie Smith (right) stands in a gold mine in Ghana with his son, HERO Vice President Carlton Smith.

Perpetually suntanned and jovial, Leslie Smith operated a successful commercial landscaping business for several decades.

Then one day, he read an item in a local newsletter that caught his fancy. It was about exporting and how to do it.

Four years later, he was in Washington, DC to accept a presidential award for excellence in exporting. Leslie and his company, HERO Florida, export heavy machinery and spare parts to multiple markets in Africa, South America and Central America.

Here are some excerpts from a discussion I had with Leslie while he was in Washington:

Barry: How did you get started in exporting?

Smith: My son and I went to Export 101 put on by the Jacksonville, Fla. Port; the Chamber of Commerce; and the Department of Commerce.

We took the knowledge from the course there and applied it to mining equipment, which is what we were interested in and believed we could make a business out of. So we went to Las Vegas to the big mining show that happens every four years.

We decided to have a reception and invited all the commercial specialists from our embassies who were there with delegates from their countries. The delegates were buyers representing mining companies from around the world. And to our surprise 200 or 300 showed up, so it was really nice. And so we made a deal with an outfit there in Ghana and sold some equipment. And so that’s how we got started in the African market.

Barry: Why did you decide to go to the export course in the first place? You had a good business.

Smith: I don’t know. I just thought it was interesting. I read it in a business journal and I called my son into the office. “Carlton, this course on exporting, it looks interesting.” I always wanted to do something like that. I just thought it would be an opportunity to travel and spend time with my son who is also my business partner.

Barry: How many countries are you in now?

Smith: We’re in a bunch. I think probably 10, including Ghana, Nigeria on the west side, and then lots of South Africa – Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia. Gosh, lots in that region.

Barry: Were you concerned about the risks of doing business in some parts of Africa?

Smith: Yeah, we really were. When we started we could do nothing more than cash and carry. People are not going to be able to open letters of credit and so forth, so it has to be cash and carry. And a lot of times they just don’t have the cash. So as things have progressed we’ve got help from the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., and we’re able to finance companies once they’re checked out through Ex-Im. So now we’re able to give companies terms.

Barry: In addition to Ex-Im Bank, did you get help from other government agencies and programs?

Smith: The Export Assistance Center of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the state of Florida through Enterprise Florida, those guys are great. I mean, they’re constantly – constantly bringing people to our office and trying to marry us with other people and inviting us to go on trade missions, and really doing their job. And if you’ve got a question, that’s where the support from the Commerce Department really comes in, because you can ask that question. And I would advise anyone that decides to get into the exporting business to use those resources because that’s what they’re there for.

Barry: So one aspect of the help you received was the International Buyer Program show in Las Vegas?

Smith: It’s the Mine Expo that only happens every four years. It’s the biggest in the world. The U.S. Commercial Service brings buyer delegations from many different countries that have mining equipment needs. In 2008, they had brought delegations from – I mean, you name the country; they were there. So it was fortunate for us.

Barry: What advice do you have for companies that aren’t exporting now?

Smith: It’s the American dream. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit. You go out there and you get it. I’ve always been in my own business, so it’s a lot of fun. And then I think my son thinks the same way, and his friends. If you want to travel and you want to do something exciting –I would take as many classes and talk to as many people like me as I could before I just jumped off the cliff. Otherwise, you could spend a lot of money and not go anywhere.

You need to do your homework. You need to use all the resources that the Commerce Department has to offer, because they have a lot. A lot. And maybe start out slow and go on some of these (Commerce Department or state government) trade missions and do it like that. And number one, have a good product—one that sells.

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Doing Business in Africa Campaign: A Success Story

June 18, 2013

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

Calynn Jenkins is an intern in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Public Affairs. She is studying political science at American University. 

ITA's Executive Director for Export Policy, Promotion, and Strategy Michael Masserman participates in round table discussion about U.S. competitiveness in Africa with representatives from the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, U.S. Trade Development agency and hosted by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA).

ITA’s Executive Director for Export Policy, Promotion, and Strategy Michael Masserman participates in round table discussion about U.S. competitiveness in Africa with representatives from the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, U.S. Trade Development agency and hosted by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) and moderated by Dr. Sharon Freeman, Chairman and CEO of All American Small Business Exporters Association.

President Obama recently said sub-Saharan Africa is poised to be the world’s next greatest economic success story, with U.S. exports to Africa topping $21 billion a year. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, and enormous opportunities exist for U.S. companies to not only do well – but to do good.

That’s why then-Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank launched the Doing Business in Africa Campaign (DBIA) last November in Johannesburg, South Africa. The campaign furthers the President’s vision of more robust commercial engagement in sub-Saharan Africa by helping U.S. businesses benefit from the export and investment opportunities in the region.

President Obama said on the day of its launch, “Through the DBIA campaign, we are responding to the emergence of African regional economic communities, and working with our partners to deepen integration, reduce barriers to trade and investment, and support existing and new investments by American businesses.”

With the commitment of the Department of Commerce, the International Trade Administration, and interagency partners, DBIA is actively promoting the opportunities available to companies in Africa. Just this morning Commerce, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency joined a round table hosted by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) with more than 100 stakeholders including the diplomatic corps and small businesses to talk about U.S. competitiveness in Africa. Each agency highlighted resources available to companies and how they fit together under the DBIA Campaign.

Pittsburgh-based Cardinal Resources, LLC seized the opportunity. Cardinal is an environmental and energy company that produces solar powered water treatment systems. From the company’s beginning in 2004, Cardinal Resources’ founders have always seen exporting and reaching international customers as its key to success. The U.S. Commercial Service (CS) assisted Cardinal Resources, LLC with exporting their solar powered water treatment systems to Africa, including Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

The Commercial Service communicated with customs authorities to help reduce duties and taxes; therefore, Cardinal Resources, LLC was able to more effectively complete the costly procedure of providing demonstrations of their solar powered water treatment systems to potential buyers overseas. The company is happy to report that they successfully closed two sales and gained over $9 million in sales revenue with the Commercial Services’ help.

“While there are challenges to doing business in Africa, we believe the sun continues to shine bright on the continent,” said Cardinal’s President Kevin Jones. “There is a tremendous need for clean water, and a growing commitment from governments to private companies to meet that need using sustainable solutions like our Red Bird Systems. Exporting sustained our company over the years and exporting to Africa will fuel our growth to new levels.”

Not only is Cardinal Resources, LLC taking advantage of the export opportunities in Africa, but it is strengthening our economy at home by sourcing 90 percent of the components for its systems from U.S. manufacturers. A project in Bayelsa, Nigeria, includes potable water storage tanks manufactured in Stoystown, Pennsylvania. Now that is good business!

To learn more about information technology sector opportunities in Africa, register for the June 20th 11:00 a.m. EST Sub-Saharan Africa Region & Trends: ICT Sector Webinar.

Is your business looking to expand their products overseas? Have you thought about the opportunities in Africa? Visit export.gov/Africa and sign up for email updates to get the latest on opportunities to do business in Africa, the DBIA campaign, and much more!

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Seize the Opportunity and Expand to Africa with the Doing Business in Africa Campaign

November 28, 2012

Francisco Sánchez serves as the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade. Follow him on Twitter @UnderSecSanchez.

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa. (photo © Graham Bedingfield/iStock)

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa. (photo © Graham Bedingfield/iStock)

Now is a great time to do business in Africa.  Consider these stats, highlighted today in remarks given by Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing markets in the world.
  • Economic growth in the region is predicted to be strong – between 5 and 6 percent – in coming years.
  • And – most importantly – millions of Africans are finding a path from poverty to greater opportunity and prosperity.

This progress is good news for our friends in Africa; it’s also good news for American businesses.  As these numbers show, the growing African market is an increasingly attractive destination for quality products and services.  It just so happens that goods that are “Made in America” are the best in the world.  Now, we just need to link this supply with the demand, and make it easier for U.S. firms to operate in the dynamic African market.

One important effort towards achieving this goal: the “Doing Business in Africa” (DBIA) campaign which I launched with Acting Secretary Blank in South Africa earlier today.

It’s a whole-of-government approach that will:

  • promote more U.S. trade with Africa;
  • increase trade financing;
  • and engage with important stakeholders – like the United States’ African Diaspora community – to ensure they have all the tools needed to do business in the African market.

To achieve these goals, the campaign is involved in a number of initiatives, including:

  • organizing an Africa Global Business Summit Series so that U.S. companies can hear directly from our Ambassadors in Africa and Senior Commercial Officers about opportunities in the region;
  • opening the U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Development and Finance Center in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013 to help identify and access U.S. government support for clean energy export and investment needs; and
  • developing an Africa Business Portal, providing valuable information about trade assistance programs and financing.

To learn more about the DBIA campaign, visit the websiteIt’s sure to represent an important step towards the goal of increased prosperity and opportunity.

Another important step that coincided with the launch of the DBIA campaign is our historic trade mission to Zambia – the first-ever.   I am currently leading a delegation of 13 U.S. companies to both Zambia and South Africa.

This trade mission represents an important opportunity for U.S. businesses.  Trade between the U.S. and these two countries is booming.  In the case of U.S. and Zambia, total bilateral trade more than doubled in 2011.

In the case of South Africa, the largest U.S. export market in Sub-Saharan Africa, total U.S.-South Africa trade was nearly $17 billion in 2011, up from $13.9 billion the year before.  And, both the companies on the mission and the parties we are meeting with are determined to keep this momentum going.

To accomplish this, we are talking with public and private sector officials to facilitate U.S. business opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Participating firms are gaining market insights, making industry contacts, and solidifying business strategies with the goal of increasing U.S. exports to the region.

By boosting U.S. exports, we can strengthen the American economy and fuel economic growth.  This work also advances the President Obama’s vision of greater U.S. engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa, as outlined by the Administration’s “U.S. Strategy on Sub-Saharan Africa” released in June.

All of us at the Department of Commerce share the President’s belief that Africa can be the world’s next great economic success story and value the opportunity to leverage our resources to support this trade mission and the Doing Business in Africa campaign.

Visit the DBIA website on Export.gov to learn more about this exciting new initiative.

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On the Horizon: New Business Endeavors in Sub-Saharan Africa

July 26, 2012

Francisco Sánchez serves as the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade. Follow him on Twitter @UnderSecSanchez.

Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs on July 25, 2012.

Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs on July 25, 2012.

On June 14th, President Obama announced a new U.S. strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa. This is a region of growing economic prominence and I am pleased that the President is focused on how the U.S. and African countries can work together to expand economic opportunities for all of their citizens.

The U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa will expand our efforts to increase economic growth, trade, and investment in the region while elevating our commercial relationships. It places an emphasis on development and partnerships and as a result, there will be an increased focus on improving economic governance and regional integration, expanding African capacity access global markets, and encouraging U.S. companies to invest in the region.

And that is exactly what I told Congress yesterday while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. On the invitation of Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, I was privileged to address the Committee and highlight the important work the Department of Commerce and our own International Trade Administration is doing in the region.

U.S. exports reached $2.1 trillion in total value last year – an all time record. And these exports supported 9.7 million valuable jobs. I want those numbers to climb even higher and Sub-Saharan Africa is a promising venue to do just that.

In fact, in 2011, U.S. exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were just over $21 billion. Rich in natural resources and emerging opportunities, this region has incredible potential. The mutual benefits are boundless and Commerce and the Administration are doing everything we can to develop these partnerships and markets.

To promote business opportunities, Commerce has taken part in a number of initiatives:

  • The U.S. Commercial Service maintains a balanced presence in the region through offices in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.
  • Our Partnership Post Program with the State Department operates in 25 countries within Sub-Saharan Africa, providing U.S companies with vital export assistance in numerous lucrative markets. This partnership is an important component of our efforts to leverage federal resources.
  • The hard work of our Advocacy Center has helped U.S companies win bids that will directly support U.S. jobs in several states.
  • Through our chairmanship of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC), we have begun developing a “Doing Business in Africa” campaign. The campaign involves outreach to the African Diaspora communities here in the U.S to raise awareness of federal assistance programs for doing business on the continent.
  • New trade missions have been scheduled and we are starting to recruit participating U.S. businesses. In September, the Department of Commerce will lead an Aerospace Trade Mission to South Africa while November will see a multi-sector mission travel to South Africa and Zambia.
  • We are working to establish the United States-East Africa Community Commercial Dialogue.  Among other things, this initiative will work to create business opportunities in key sectors.
  • And to reassure U.S. businesses, we are working to address concerns regarding intellectual property.  A common anxiety in all instances of international trade, the Commercial Law Development Program is working to structure IP guidelines and hosting workshops to train government officials.

These are just a few of the projects and resources we are developing. I urge everyone to continue to visit our blog for regular updates in the coming months on our work to support U.S. businesses exporting to Africa – and the development of the continent as a whole.

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Small Baltimore Engineering Business Believes in “Doing Well by Doing Good”

April 13, 2012

Doug Barry is an International Trade Specialist in the Trade Information Center, part of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service

Engineer Kimberly Brown started Amethyst Technologies five years ago.  Her Baltimore, Maryland-based company now has 24 employees and recently expanded its markets to include Africa with help from the U.S. Commercial Service.  Dr. Brown spoke to Doug Barry of the International Trade Administration’s Trade Information Center.

Barry:  Your work in Africa is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.  It sounds like the U.S. government is a good entree for small companies of a certain type to get into the international marketplace.  True?

Brown:  Definitely I agree with that statement.  It was our first prime contract.  And we had different tasks.  And our last task was the Tanzania-scope project.  So as a small business, we were just trying to do business in Maryland.  And we were given the opportunity to provide services to support the U.S. Army in Tanzania and Kenya.  That’s really the only reason why we are in Africa now, and we’re pursuing other opportunities. 

Dr. Kimberly Brown of Amethyst Technologies

Dr. Kimberly Brown of Amethyst Technologies

Barry: Where will you go next?

Brown:  We are currently pursuing opportunities in about five countries.  Most of those opportunities right now are with foreign governments.  We also have been talking to the large NGOs.  Because our work supports global health initiatives, we have value-added resources to assist with the President’s Malaria Initiative, with the Global Health Initiative. 

Barry:  It must be a wonderful feeling to get up every day realizing that you’re contributing to saving lives and improving the lives of, potentially, millions of people.

Brown:  Definitely.  It makes it all worthwhile.  It’s an added bonus to doing business when you’re doing something that is very beneficial, very needed, and it will change lives.  Small things make a very large difference.

Barry:  What do engineers like you contribute to the finding of cures for malaria and other kinds of diseases?

Brown:  We set up laboratories.  One of the primary things we do on the engineering side is we ensure U.S. Food and Drug Administration compliance for equipment. We develop software.  We get specs for clean rooms, laboratories.  So we set up World Health Organization-compliant laboratories for drug testing, developing standards for education, for health care, for transportation and agriculture.  So as engineers, we offer something very unique and beneficial to global health.

Barry:  What did you hear about the U.S. Commercial Service and its local office, the Baltimore Export Assistance Center, that piqued your curiosity about how the U.S. government could help grow the international side of your business?

Brown:  Well, I heard that they can help us identify partners.  They can also assist us with identifying what countries we can do business with and what type of business we can do.  So as a small business, for me, that levels the playing field, because large businesses which are doing business overseas, they have a whole department that’s dedicated to providing these types of services.  And I found out that the U.S. government will help do it for us.  My first meeting with the U.S. Commercial Service, I was told that I needed to find a partner.  Before that, I thought that Amethyst could just go in ourselves and get a contract or look for opportunity.  So they really opened my eyes to:  you need to find a partner.

Barry: Did they provide you with a partner, other than the advice that a partner is needed?

Brown:  They told me organizations to contact.  So in this case, they didn’t actually give me a specific partner, but they gave me leads to identify a partner.  That worked out very well, because I’ve identified several partners in several countries.  And that is very important, because in many countries, as a U.S. company you can’t own a business; you can’t be the primary majority owner.  So you will need an in-country partner. The time involved – again, as a small business, you’re going to need somebody who knows how to do business in that country.  And then the connections – you have to know people.  It’s great advice that I received from the U.S. Commercial Service that is really making a difference in our pursuit of opportunities abroad. 

Barry: Were you a little put off by the fact that it was a government agency?

Brown:  I’ve always had very positive results and had great assistance from government agencies.  My company receives help from the Small Business Administration.  So I never had any hesitance to contact them and am always seeking opportunities to contact government agencies to get resources, especially with doing business overseas. 

Barry:  Do you think that’s a competitive advantage for U.S. businesses to make sure that they know about the government services available and make full use of them?

Brown:  Definitely.  As a small business, and even large businesses know, you need to take advantage of any information that you can receive that is appropriate, that is correct and is free or very affordable. 

Barry:  In working in Africa and with a different culture, have you or your company had to develop a different mindset in order to effectively interact with people from a different culture?

Brown:  We really haven’t had many problems in interacting other than language barriers.  In Tanzania, everything is in Swahili.  So we had to have all our documents translated to Swahili and we hire interpreters.  But other than that, it’s really been a very smooth transition, especially in health care.  That’s a global language.  And everyone understands malaria.  And that’s what we’re doing in Tanzania. 

Barry:  What else are you considering and thinking about now in positioning your company to do more of this kind of work?

Brown:  Well, definitely diversifying, listening to the large businesses like GE.  I attended an event a few years ago, and the CEO of GE talked about going global.  And that always stuck with me, that as a small business we need to do what the large businesses are doing.  Creating jobs in the U.S., doing work overseas is our model.  So we have been aligning ourselves with partners, public and private partnerships; that’s really what we’re focusing on now. 

Barry:  Do you have a person that does that full-time or is that you or do you have someone else in the company?

Brown:  That’s all of us.  Primarily it’s me. But our people who are working in Africa, they often will identify opportunities.

Barry:  As you know, there’s a lot of fear and paranoia, paralysis even, when it comes to thinking about selling something to somebody in a different country.  And what would you say now to the fearful based on your experience?

Brown:  Definitely do your homework.  Use the U.S. Commercial Service to research any country that you are thinking about doing business.  Find out what the markets are, what are the positives, what are the negatives.  And look for in-country partners. And both of those things are resources that the U.S. Commercial Services specializes in helping business with.

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Thoughts from Day 5 of Our Historic Trade Mission to Africa

March 11, 2010

Suresh Kumar is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service

Greetings from Johannesburg! I just arrived here last night, on a flight from Dakar, where I have been leading 8 terrific U.S. companies on a Commerce Department trade mission to Senegal and South Africa. This delegation represents the first trade mission of the Obama Administration to Sub-Sahara Africa, and the first trade mission by the U.S. Government to Senegal in over ten years.

Our delegation completed a whirlwind three days in Senegal. We made great progress in laying a foundation for increased commercial engagement that will lead to a stronger Africa and a stronger America. Our Foreign Commercial Service office in Dakar arranged matchmaking meetings for our companies with over 70 qualified Senegalese buyers. U.S. Ambassador Marcia Bernicat and I had frank and constructive meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers. We emphasized the Obama Administration’s commitment to free and fair trade, and open and transparent processes. We also secured a Memorandum of Understanding from the Government of Senegal on following FAA guidelines covering federal air marshals.

I have spent the last few years working with African leaders on strategies for developing their nations. This mission reinforced that trade more than aid leads to sustainable economic stability and prosperity. Clearly, the International Trade Administration, through the US & Foreign Commercial Service, has a pivotal road to play in expanding trade to create jobs, and ensuring that U.S. economic and national security interests are protected.

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Big Business at Big Iron

November 2, 2009

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

Heather Ranck is Director of the Fargo, North Dakota US Export Assistance Center. She is also active on the Agribusiness Team, and in that capacity she promotes the export of US-made agricultural machinery throughout the world.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

I keep telling myself: sleep is overrated! Somewhere between the 1 a.m. airport pickup for my colleague arriving from China; and the 7:30 a.m. Ex-Im Bank finance meeting sleep tends to take a back seat to all the organizing, facilitating, entertaining and crisis management that is inherent in putting on any large event. The Big Iron Farm Machinery Show is the biggest agricultural machinery show in the Upper Midwest, and in 2007 we decided to make it a global event when the former Soviet countries began showing very high interest in our large scale farm machinery built in North Dakota. This, our third year, is once again packed with activity and opportunities for the 150+ foreign buyers who are descending on Fargo to learn about American large scale crop farming.

This year I focused my recruiting efforts on Africa, a new frontier for large scale farm equipment. Having lived in Mozambique and Congo, I wanted to scope out the prospects, so in May 2009 I took a 3-week trip to South Africa, Angola and Mozambique. After 144 meetings I learned a lot about the needs and opportunities for farm equipment in Africa. We had a delegation of 25 Africans at Big Iron this year, and I would like to see American technology helping increase food production in Africa.

The Big Iron International Visitors Program is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Commercial Service (the primary federal government export assistance agency) and the North Dakota Trade Office (a state of North Dakota trade promotion organization); and our combined team of 10 people coordinates very closely on all recruiting, events planning, logistics, interpreting, transportation and programming.

During the show, the hub of all the activity is the International Visitors Pavilion, for which the International Trade Administration’s Market Development Cooperator Program (MDCP) provided substantial funding for the meeting rooms this year. This is Grand Central Station for buyers and sellers, with meeting rooms, food and COFFEE!

We are always coming up with new elements to the program, and one of my new ideas this year was to hold an international soccer match. We had a beautiful, sunny day in Fargo and Fargo Parks let us use the best fields in Fargo. The game ended in a 4-4 tie, further ensuring international harmony.

I also have taken on the activity of ensuring adequate language assistance for buyers and sellers. I speak Portuguese, and therefore did quite a bit of interpreting for the Angolan delegation this year. We are fortunate to have 3 universities in the Fargo-Moorhead area, so we recruit student volunteers to facilitate business meetings throughout the week.

Big Iron 2009 was as exciting as ever this year with representation from 12 different countries, many of them new to Big Iron. It is thrilling to watch the years of effort leading to deals being negotiated before our eyes; and millions of dollars of US agricultural machinery being shipped all over the world.

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