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Promoting Equitable Economic Growth in a Virtual Era

May 24, 2021

Nya Igambi is Regional Director for the U.S. Commercial Service’s Southern Network. The Commercial Service (CS) is the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

World Trade Month presents an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the small and medium-sized companies that drive U.S. exports and strengthen our economy. It’s also an opportunity to encourage firms, including minority-owned firms, to begin or expand their export efforts.  

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2019, U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $2.5 trillion and supported 10.7 million U.S. jobs. Of the 288,000 U.S. companies that exported goods in 2019, 97.4% were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  

With 96% of the world’s consumers located outside of the U.S., exporting is a crucial growth strategy that business owners should consider – especially minority-owned firms. Minority-owned businesses represented approximately 18.3% (1 million) of all U.S. businesses in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and statistically are well-positioned to go global. According to the Minority Business Development Agency, they are twice as likely to export, three times as likely to already have international operations, and six times as likely to transact business in a language other than English. 

I have been passionate about increasing the number of minority and women exporters since I joined the U.S. Commercial Service 20 years ago as a global diversity outreach specialist. Now, in 2021, I am energized by the Commerce Department’s economic recovery plan for U.S. businesses and workers, which includes a focus on creating economic prosperity through exports, including minority exporters. The plan will be vital to improving our communities, particularly as they continue their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Minority-owned businesses often have cultural ties, language skills, and flexibility that can provide unique advantages when exporting. These firms can readily leverage foreign language capabilities, diaspora, and contacts in foreign markets to sell their products and services overseas. Minority-owned companies are creative, innovative and are represented in every industry sector in the United States. Technology and cross-border eCommerce enable firms to go global from inception. 

Houston-based startup, and U.S. Commercial Service client, IPP Global, is one example of a minority-owned firm that found success in overseas markets. With export counseling and assistance from CS Houston, company executives decided to pursue export opportunities as part of their initial business strategy.

“Our focus went global right away because we noticed there’s a major pull from the African continent,” said IPP Global’s president, Peter Agbro. “There’s a major pull for U.S. technology internationally, and it’s an easy entry because there’s a high demand for U.S. technology as compared to within the U.S. itself. Within the U.S. the technology is abundantly available, and the competition is steep, but outside of the U.S. …competition is less, and there is a high demand for it. We started to plan for export almost immediately.”  

Despite these many advantages, historically, minority-owned SMEs, and other SMEs in underserved communities, continue to face steep challenges growing their business and adding jobs through new export sales. There are many reasons why—SMEs in underserved communities often lack knowledge about export opportunities, lack access to financing, and face difficulties in identifying and vetting overseas customers. Additionally, they often struggle to connect with appropriate service providers and resources that could help to facilitate an export transaction.

While the pandemic has increased complications for exporters, it has also ushered in developments that will help organizations like the International Trade Administration and the U.S. Commercial Service to be more inclusive and connect with more potential clients, including minority-owned businesses, as the U.S. economy recovers from the pandemic. More specifically, using digital tools and virtual services, we can assist more clients and provide more resources to help businesses to recognize their competitive advantages and seize opportunities.

  • For example, this past year, we have advised companies to utilize the Single Company Promotion (SCP) as an out-of-the-box marketing option. The SCP provides a U.S. firm with a promotional event such as a technical presentation to help increase awareness of their existing/new products/services in a specific market. The U.S. Commercial Service organizes the event logistics; conducts a targeted direct mail or e-mail campaign; manages the promotional campaign and event-related logistics; and provides a post-event debriefing to discuss next steps.
  • Additionally, through its eCommerce Innovation Lab and trained trade professionals, the U.S. Commercial Service offers valuable tools to help companies grow their brand for global sales. The Website Globalization Review Gap Analysis is the first step and provides technical and strategic assessment of a company’s eCommerce sales channel efforts and is aimed at helping companies acquire more international consumers online. 

These are just a few examples of the digital tools and resources that the U.S. Commercial Service has developed to support a more equitable, export-led, economic recovery. If you are a U.S. business interested in developing an export strategy, reach out to your local U.S. Export Assistance Center today.