Posts Tagged ‘small business’

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Harnessing the Power of Nature; Harnessing the Benefits of Exporting

June 26, 2013

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Lighting Eliminators products protect everything from industrial complexes to cell phone towers.

Lighting Eliminators’ products are used to protect everything from industrial complexes to cell phone towers.

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

Lightning Eliminators is a Boulder, Colorado company that does what its name says, according to chief executive Avrum Saunders. Saunders points to his many satisfied customers around the world who have purchased the hardware and related services to protect their oil drilling rigs, airports, schools, and many other kinds of infrastructure.

The company was highlighted in the Washington Post, in an article highlighting global success for American small businesses. As the article points out, many small businesses are getting export help from government agencies like the International Trade Administration, the Export-Import Bank, and the Small Business Administration.

In business since 1971, Lightning Eliminators recently expanded internationally in such diverse places ranging from Australia to Africa – and is thriving as a result. I was able to speak with Saunders about his company’s success when he was in Washington, DC to accept the Presidential “E” Award for export excellence.

Barry: Why do we need to eliminate lightning and how do you do it?

Saunders: We build very specialized and unique equipment to protect sensitive facilities from lightning strikes. If you have an oil facility, for example, a lightning strike can be catastrophic. Ours is a very different technology than the traditional lightning rod. We avoid lightning strikes, whereas lightning rods attract it.

Barry: Can you tell us a bit about how the technology works?

Saunders: Basically, lightning forms in the following way: Energy forms from the ground up and from the clouds down. And where the two meet, you’ll see the lightning strike or the lightning flash. Our equipment is designed to keep that upward-forming energy from reaching sufficient strength to attract the downward energy. It will seek some other location to connect.

Barry: What percentage of your sales is export?

Saunders: It’s 60-plus percent. I think this year it’ll probably reach about 62 to 63 percent. And we’ve grown that 200 percent over the last three and a half years.

Barry: How helpful is the U.S. government in helping your international business grow?

Saunders: Extraordinarily helpful. The people at the Export Assistance Center in Denver have been extraordinarily helpful to us. They have helped us open five or six new markets in the last two years. In fact my international sales manager is in Australia as we speak on a trip organized by the International Trade Administration, working with a local staff member in Australia to introduce our technology more fully and to help us find representation. That’s been the single most important thing that they’ve helped us do, is find good representation in a number of different countries – highly, highly recommend it to anybody who is looking to export. They’re good folk.

Lightning Eliminaters products protect oil rigs in the Indian Ocean

Lightning Eliminators products protect oil rigs in the Indian Ocean

In fact, the services they provide, you could not obtain for 20, 30 times the cost it costs us to work with them. It’s one of the programs that most people don’t know about, unfortunately, but is a really, really good use of our tax dollars because for every dollar spent we’re returning a considerably higher sum to the economy in Colorado and the U.S.

Barry: Advice to the companies that aren’t exporting now?

Saunders: There are three areas that I think are crucial. One, you need quality representation in the local economies because you cannot, from the United States, fully comprehend what goes on day-to-day in a place like Nigeria. You just can’t do it. You need that local help. Secondly, you have to pay attention to the details – details such as financing instruments, like letters of credit and bank transfers, things of that sort. Third, and perhaps most important, is that you really have to understand the business culture.

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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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America’s Small Businesses Find a Competitive Edge with Creativity

June 19, 2013

Michael Masserman and Ashley Zuelke work in the Office of Export Policy, Promotion & Strategy.

People in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood know artist Nikolas Weinstein for his cascading glass sculpture at a local restaurant, but U.S. customers are only 10 percent of Weinstein’s business. As we celebrate National Small Business Week, Nikolas Weinstein Studios deserves recognition as proof that – with a product or service that can be sold internationally – no business is too small or specialized to succeed in the global marketplace.


With a team of 10, Nikolas Weinstein Studios produces large-scale glass sculptural installations that hang in luxury hotels, commercial spaces, and private residences across the globe.

Initially, Weinstein met global customers by word-of-mouth. In 2009, they began working with the U.S. Commercial Service in San Francisco to seek counseling on international markets in Japan, China and Hong Kong. Since teaming with the U.S. Commerce Department, their international business has increased more than four-fold. In the past two years, more than 70 percent of their total business has resulted from working with the Commercial Service.

Businesses with stories like Nikolas Weinstein Studios support our efforts under the President’s National Export Initiative to increase U.S. exports and support millions of jobs here at home.  We’re committed to helping all U.S. businesses start selling internationally or expand global sales, but we recognize that small businesses have unique needs. In fact, small businesses represent nearly 85 percent of the companies we help at the International Trade Administration.

Small businesses also account for 98 percent of known U.S. exporting companies, and they are increasing their share of exports. In 2011, small and medium-sized businesses accounted for 33 percent of the overall value of U.S. goods exports – up from 27 percent nine years ago.

We also know small businesses create two out of three net new private sector jobs in our economy.  And today, half of all working Americans either own or work for a small business.

That’s why the Administration has focused its efforts on increasing the number of U.S. small and medium-sized exporters and making it easier for them to access federal export assistance.

We’re working to accomplish this by expanding access to trade financing and ensuring the most efficient delivery of our services to help small businesses establish a foothold abroad, compete on a level playing field, diversify their markets, and support additional good-paying American jobs.

Small businesses like Nikolas Weinstein Studios characterize the American entrepreneurial spirit. At the International Trade Administration, we see American products as the gold standard of quality and innovation. For small businesses interested in the global market, Weinstein has some simple advice – “Remember: American creativity is something people value.”

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“E” Award Winner’s Vehicles Save Lives and Support Exports

May 21, 2013

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

Brian Larkin is a Presidential Management Fellow serving in the International Trade Administration.

First Priority exports emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks around the world, with help from the International Trade Administration.

First Priority exports emergency vehicles like these around the world, with help from the International Trade Administration.

This week, the Department of Commerce hosted the 51st Annual President’s “E” Awards. During the ceremony, 57 American companies and organizations from 22 states were honored for their contributions to increasing our nation’s exports.

One of the winners was First Priority Emergency Vehicles, a New Jersey-based manufacturer of firefighting, medical, and other emergency vehicles and equipment.

“It is quite an honor to be a recipient of a 2013 President’s ‘E’ Award,” says First Priority President Robert J. Freeman.

“Our belief is that small businesses like First Priority have an important role to play in supporting President Obama’s National Export Initiative, growing our economy, and creating vital manufacturing jobs in the U.S.”

First Priority’s experience demonstrates both how the International Trade Administration (ITA) supports U.S. exporters and how a small business that takes a thoughtful, customer service-oriented approach to foreign sales can thrive.

Like other “E” Award winners, First Priority has found ITA to be a valuable partner. Mr. Freeman says that dedicated trade specialists, like Thomas Mottley of the Central New Jersey U.S. Export Assistance Center, have provided useful insights into foreign markets and made him aware of the many ITA resources available to exporters. He also credits CS officers based in China with apprising him of the commercial opportunity there and helping prepare him to do business in the country. Since then, China has become an important market for First Priority.

Another key to First Priority’s success has been understanding the needs of customers across a wide array of emerging markets. With buyers in countries like Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, and Mexico, First Priority must modify its vehicles and equipment to meet differing local requirements. The firm carefully considers fuel efficiency standards, design characteristics, and even the prevalence of fire hydrants in its destination markets – and adapts its products accordingly.

First Priority has also been recognized for its comprehensive training programs, which help customers to effectively utilize what can be complex emergency vehicles. By remaining mindful of the technical and instructional needs of its clients, First Priority has earned a reputation internationally for superior customer service.

Exporters like First Priority and its fellow “E” Award recipients are selling quality products and services all over the world, strengthening their bottom lines, and creating jobs here in the United States. We at ITA are proud to support their efforts and look forward to continued export successes in the future.

We would also like to help your business. Please contact your nearest Export Assistance Center to learn more about our services.

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U.S. Exporters Reach Record High in 2011

May 13, 2013

Natalie Soroka is an economist in the Office of Trade and Industry Information within the International Trade Administration where she focuses on international trade statistics and trends.

Small- and Medium-sized enterprises produce more than 50 percent of known exports in five states. The national average is for such businesses to produce 33.3 percent of known exports for each state.

In five states, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) produce more than 50 percent of known exports for the state.

This month the International Trade Administration released its overview report on U.S. Exporting Companies in 2011. This overview is based on the Census Bureau’s Profile of U.S. Importing and Exporting Companies, 2010-2011.

This report, a joint project between Census and the International Trade Administration (ITA), details the characteristics of U.S. merchandise trading companies in 2010 and 2011, including information on company size, industry, geographic composition, and top export markets.

The report shows some interesting data and helps show how services like those offered at ITA can help Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) begin exporting or increase their exports. Businesses of any size can contact their nearest Export Assistance Center to find out how we can help.

In 2011, more than 300,000 U.S. companies exported goods, an increase of more than 8,200 since the previous year and up by more than 25,600 companies since the beginning of the National Export Initiative (NEI) in 2009.

Manufacturers accounted for the largest portion of known export value (that is, export transactions that can be linked to a specific company), much of it from large firms. However, when you look at the number of exporters, manufacturing firms only account for about a quarter of U.S. exporters, with smaller and medium-sized firms accounting for many of the non-manufacturing companies.

In fact, SMEs, which have fewer than 500 employees, accounted for 98 percent of U.S. exporters in 2011.

With regard to markets, exporters largely ship goods to markets in North America (namely, NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico), with 43 percent of exporters shipping merchandise to this region.

The number of companies exporting to the Pacific Rim region has also shown significant growth in recent years, up by more than 12,000 since 2009, nearly all of which were SMEs. Among the top 25 U.S. export markets in 2011, the number of exporters to Australia showed the highest increase, up by nearly 2,700 exporters since 2010.

SMEs account for a third of goods exports on average, but in markets like Switzerland, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, India, and Israel, SMEs account for more than 40 percent of known U.S. exports.

On a state level, California reported the most identified exporters in 2011, at more than 75,000, followed by Florida, New York, Texas, and Illinois. SMEs play an important role in many states’ exports, in particular accounting for more than half of goods exports from five states, which includes the states of New York and Florida, both among the top state exporters.

Overall, SMEs in particular would benefit from further expanding into new markets. In 2011, more than half (59 percent) of SMEs exported to a single foreign market. In contrast, 55 percent of large companies exported to five or more countries.

Compared with big companies, most SMEs do not possess offshore business affiliates that can be used to circumvent trade barriers and gain market access.

That’s why U.S. government initiatives to open foreign markets can especially benefit smaller U.S. exporters. If your SME needs help gaining access to foreign markets, you can contact your nearest Export Assistance Center to find out how we can help your business, regardless of its size.

For more information, read the full overview.

(This post was updated to correct an error in the first paragraph.)

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U.S. Exporters (and Exports) Increased in 2010, Up 6 Percent from 2009

April 17, 2012

Natalie Soroka is an economist in the Office of Trade and Industry Information within the International Trade Administration where she focuses on international trade statistics and trends.

Last week the Census Bureau released, A Profile of U.S. Importing and Exporting Companies, 2009-2010, which provides information on U.S. companies that can be linked to import or export transactions (otherwise referred to as “identified” companies). In 2010, more than 293,000 U.S. companies exported goods, nearly 16,500 more than exported in 2009.  These companies exported $1.1 trillion in goods in 2010, up 21 percent from 2009. Most of these exporters (266,400 or 91 percent) were single location companies, however the remaining 9 percent of companies that operated from multiple locations accounted for 75 percent of the “known export value” (the value of export transactions that can be tied to specific companies).Graph showing the number of companies that only export (212,419), only import (101,008) or both (80,640)

What do these companies export? Manufacturers accounted for the largest portion of known value in 2010 (60 percent). In addition, the top 50 manufacturers accounted for 43 percent of the entire sector’s known export value. This is higher than the share represented by the top 50 wholesalers (36 percent) and other companies (37 percent) in their respective sectors. Large companies dominate manufacturers’ exports, with 3 percent of manufacturing exporters accounting for 81 percent of manufacturing export value.

On the import side, the number of importers also increased from 2009, up to more than 181,600 businesses. It should be noted that importers and exporters are not mutually exclusive. Of the more than 394,000 companies engaged in trade, more than a fifth (80,640) both exported and imported goods in 2010.

Like exports, while most importers operate from a single location (90 percent), it is the few multiple location companies that account for most (76 percent) of the known import value. Importers also tend to be slightly more concentrated towards the top firms than exporters.

However, international trade isn’t only a big guy’s game. Small and medium-sized companies (those with fewer than 500 employees), or “SMEs”, accounted for 98 percent of all identified exporters in 2010 and 34 percent of known export value.  While they may only contribute 19 percent of the sector’s $683 billion in exports, 97 percent of manufacturing exporters are SMEs. As for wholesalers, SMEs accounted for 62 percent of the sector’s $268 billion in exports.

Unlike previous versions of the Profile, this version includes information on SME companies by 3-digit North American Industry Classification (NAICS) code. In 2010, merchant wholesalers of durable goods comprised both the largest number of SME exporters (60,571) and the highest known export value among these industries ($91 billion).

As for our export and import markets, more than half of identified companies exported to or imported from only one foreign market, and 82 percent of exporters and 90 percent of importers traded with one of the top 25 U.S. trading partners. Exports to Canada, the largest market in 2010, also showed the highest increase in known dollar value compared to 2009 (up $34 billion). On the import side, China was the largest supplier for U.S. importers as well as showed the highest growth in known value, increasing by $66 billion in 2010.

On a state level, Texas, California, New York, Washington, and Florida together accounted for 43 percent of known exports.  Similarly, California, Texas, New Jersey, New York and Illinois accounted for half of the known import value in 2010. Many states posted increases in 2010, with Maine showing the highest increase in known export value (up 46 percent) and New Mexico showing the highest increase in known import value (up 55 percent).

More information and the full profile are both available on the Office of Trade and Industry Information website.

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ITA’s Anti-Corruption Efforts at APEC

December 7, 2011

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

Lynn Costa is a senior trade development adviser in ITA’s Market Access and Compliance unit.

Corruption is a significant market access barrier for U.S. exporters. According to the World Bank, nearly $1 trillion is lost globally each year to corrupt activities. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) disproportionately bear the costs of corruption because they lack the bargaining power and influence to oppose requests for illegal payments and bribes. It has been estimated by the World Bank that 25 percent of the operating capital of a typical SME exporter is lost to corruption each year. This is a staggering amount that undermines innovation and inhibits company growth, employment, and export capability.

In an effort to put into place programs that will help eliminate corruption in the APEC economies, the Market Access and Compliance unit of the International Trade Administration (ITA) this year launched business ethics projects that focused on three sectors of special interest to SME exporters: medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, and construction. The result was a set of industry-specific ethics principles for business codes of ethics that were presented to the APEC ministers in Honolulu and subsequently endorsed by them. The next step will be the implementation of these business ethics principles over the next several years. This will be done thanks to a funding commitment made by APEC in response to ITA’s efforts in this area.

To read the full text, of the APEC ministers’ statement on open governance and ethical business practices, visit www.apec.org.

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