Posts Tagged ‘E-Award’


Recognizing Those Supporting American Exports

May 28, 2014

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Ken Hyatt is the Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.

Icelantic Skis was one of 65 companies and organizations recognized by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker with a President's E Award for supporting U.S. exports.

Icelantic Skis was one of 65 companies and organizations recognized by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker with a President’s E Award for supporting U.S. exports. You can find more photos on our Facebook page.

We at the Department of Commerce produce a lot of numbers, but we always try to see behind the export numbers into what they create – jobs, growth, and development.

It was easy to see behind the numbers today, as I joined Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to recognize and congratulate 65 companies and organizations that have supported the expansion of U.S. exports.

These companies and organizations earned the 2014 President’s E Awards, the highest honor bestowed upon those that are committed to expanding the U.S. economy through exports.

The awardees include an assortment of small and medium-sized businesses in a variety of states and business sectors. From Kansas-based Pioneer Balloon Company to California-based Robinson Pharma, both of which have expanded their exports with support from U.S. government agencies including the Department of Commerce.

Then there are organizations like the Global Commerce Council of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which provides counseling, training, and networking opportunities to support Atlanta-area businesses looking to succeed overseas. This kind of support is crucial to businesses looking to expand their global presence.

There are 62 other companies and organizations that earned the President’s E Award, each and every one of which is working hard to make international trade a part of the DNA of American business.

I was honored to be a part of today’s ceremony, as I am continually honored to be a part of our nation’s growing commitment to international trade.

Congratulations to each and every company and organization recognized today, and thanks to every other American business, chamber of commerce, trade organization, World Trade Center, and other entities that are supporting U.S. businesses.

All of us at the Department of Commerce look forward to another year of more American companies competing and succeeding overseas, and to recognizing the businesses and organizations who exemplify the American commitment to global business during the next year.


Hard Work and a Desire to do Better Powers this California Company around the World

July 12, 2012

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the Trade Information Center, U.S. Commercial Service within the International Trade Administration.

Kusum and Mukund Kavia were a young married couple who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh via London. They settled in the U.S. with very little money but had their youth and the immigrant’s determination to succeed—a kind of secret sauce in the creative curry that is Southern California. Currently, their company works in 10 countries and will soon add Iraq to the mix. 90 percent of revenue comes from international sales.

In 2011 at a White House ceremony the company received the Presidential “E”- Award for excellence in exporting.  Combustion Associates is a client of the Export Assistance Center in Ontario, California.  I recently spoke with them about their story.

One of Combustion Associates 80 MW power plants being assembled in Benin, West Africa (Photo Combustion Associates, Inc.)

One of Combustion Associates 80 MW power plants being assembled in Benin, West Africa (Photo Combustion Associates, Inc.)

Barry:  You own Combustion Associates, Inc.  What do you do there?  Combust?

Mukund:  You are very close.  We design and build power generation systems using aero-derivative turbines, the kind which power aircraft. Our company provides modular power plants in the range from 1-megawatt to 10-megawatt.  Now, a 1-megawatt is the size of a 40-foot container and can power 1,000 U.S. homes.  So, when we take it to emerging countries such as Africa or East Europe or Central America, they can power villages.

Barry:  Since these villages aren’t on a national power grid, having reliable electricity helps in a variety of ways.

Mukund:  Absolutely.  Our units are there not only for power but to really help the local economy grow.

Barry:  When did you get started?

Mukund:  We started in 1991 with just a 200 square foot office.  Today, there are 60 employees with a 40,000 square foot facility.

Barry:  What was the biggest challenge the company faced getting started in the international marketplace?

Mukund:  We were not recognized in the industry.  So being a small company, we had to make a name for ourselves out there.

Barry:  How’d you do that?

Kusum:  We partnered with the U.S. Commercial Service (of the Department of Commerce) to spread our name, spread what we did, and that really elevated us to a level that we were able to be in front of the customer at the international level. Since the Commercial Service has representatives in these countries they can help find buyers for us. In some case we invite prospective customers to our facility in California.

Barry:  How did this work in the early days of the business?

Kusum:  It was interesting. We didn’t have a suitable place to meet.  One of the biggest things that I remember Fred Lauterperisa (the director of the Export Assistance Center) doing is opening up his office to us.  When I called him, he said, ‘please use my conference room.’  And that’s what we did.  We actually had our customers meet us at the U.S. Commercial Service in Ontario (California) and utilize their conference room. 

Barry:  What else did Fred do for you?

Kusum:  He also arranged for representatives of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S to attend the meeting and discuss Bank programs that provide loan guarantees to the U.S. companies for extended payment terms and money for more inventory.  Funding is also available for foreign buyers to purchase U.S. products from companies like ours.
Barry:  I take it that government export promotion programs have been something of a gold mine for you. 

Kusum:  The government both at the local, state and federal levels really go out of their way to help businesses blossom and grow.  And we have found that everywhere that we have gone and told people about our story, they have opened up and they have said ‘how can we help you?’

Barry:  What advice do you have for other U.S. companies that haven’t entered the global market because of fear of failure, lack of knowledge or other reasons?

Kusum:  Don’t limit yourself.  You’re already doing something that you know is your passion.  All you have to do is get out of your comfort zone and don’t limit yourself. You’re going to have different challenges – some new, some old.  But I would encourage everyone that is looking to export to say, ‘Please, why haven’t you thought of doing that?’  As Americans, I believe that all of us want to reinvent ourselves. We want to be the best we can be so that we are able to export U.S. products overseas that are quality, cost-effective and really a win-win for the countries that we’re doing business with.  At the same time, we want to go out there again and do so much more for this great country of ours, which really is a welcoming opportunity for anybody that wants to work hard and do better.


A Gold Key Unlocks Global Growth for Cleveland Company

June 22, 2012

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the Trade Information Center, U.S. Commercial Service within the International Trade Administration.

A record number of companies were recognized for their accomplishments in exporting at a White House ceremony this past May. Cleveland-based Jet Incorporated was represented by its chief executive officer Ron Swinko, who received the Presidential “E” Award. Swinko spoke with Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center, U.S. Commercial Service.

Barry: Can you tell us how the company started and what it does?

Swinko: The company was founded in 1955. The basic equipment the company designed at that time was to replace septic tanks with advanced technology, to treat the water using a smaller system and to allow the water to be discharged. Over the years, we expanded into commercial systems which are typically called small package plants for decentralized locations like small villages, hotels, resorts. That is the basis for our international growth as well.

Jet’s International Sales Manager, Gary Waite, trains the distributor and local operators on a new wastewater treatment plant in Kenya. (Photo Jet, Inc.)

Barry: For the non-scientists, can you give us a quick overview of how things work?

Swinko: It’s biological wastewater treatment. So anything that comes from either the sinks or the sanitary systems in a home or in a building that water enters into the system, into a tank where the solids are digested by aerobic bacteria. And part of our system is designed to inject air that promotes the growth of that aerobic bacteria.

Barry: Tell us about the international part of your business. How did that start and what was the biggest challenge in getting going?

Swinko: It started with inquiries because of the technology that was developed. The founder, David MacLaren, was certainly an innovator. And he was also very interested in expanding the technology internationally. He obtained a series of patents in several countries over the years. The most significant challenge was servicing our international distributors. And by servicing that means having enough inventory to meet their demands for immediate shipment, understanding what the export requirements are and ultimately providing solid responsive technical support for systems that have been installed globally.

Barry: You do a lot of work in developing countries. Has that been a challenge?

Swinko: Educating customers is a big challenge. Developing countries may be focused on environmental sustainability, even to a greater extent than we are here in the U.S., because of the scarcity of water. But they may not necessarily understand the benefit of regulation or the type of equipment that’s available. Over the last couple of years, one of our initiatives has been to educate regulators in, for example, the Cayman Islands and in Kenya. We hosted a seminar on wastewater management for the architects association of Kenya into at least provide some education about  how wastewater treatment systems can generate water for reuse and how that can be incorporated into sustainable projects for apartment buildings and resorts.

Barry: Who did you turn to in order to find a solution to that challenge?

Swinko: We’ve used the U.S. Commercial Service quite extensively. They have a wonderful service called the Gold Key, and because our business relies on increasing the number of distributors, we look for partners in developing countries who will act as distributors and who are technically capable either because they’re currently in the water purification business or because they’re in the construction business. We’ve used this service to expand into Southeast Asia and into South America. I just recently returned from a trade mission to Brazil that included four Gold Key meetings with potential distributors in Sao Paolo.

Barry: When you say Gold Key, do you provide the gold and they provide the key?

Swinko: It’s more mutual than that. But truthfully, the U.S. Commercial Service spends a great deal of time learning about our business, learning about and understanding our company and the requirements for distributors in the location, and then they evaluate potential distributor partners and partner companies in that area. They establish the Gold Key meetings after they’ve reviewed the capabilities and what our requirements are. Finally they look for a match, a good match I would say maybe in terms of company personality as well as technical expertise.

Barry: Let’s talk about the matches in Brazil. It would have been hard for you to fly in unannounced to Rio and Sao Paolo and open a phonebook. So they had a solution for that. But how did it work out on the ground?  Are you confident that good things will come of those meetings?

Swinko: Very confident. Part of the service includes an interpreter. So if there are any language barriers, particularly with technical terms or equipment, the interpreters are very capable. But for the most part they also look for companies that have good language skills in terms of an understanding of English. We’re quite confident that this was an excellent trip for us. And we’ve had more detailed discussions with two of the companies and we’ve already had three quotes for systems requested.

Barry: This was a U.S. Commerce Department trade mission?

Swinko: Yes. The trade mission itself was a combined effort by the Commerce Department with the Brazil- U.S. Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was particularly impressive in terms of the level of government officials that we met with and the management level of the potential customers or clients that we met. We received very detailed technical presentations on their environmental sustainability programs – and certainly from our perspective the mission was well worth the participation and the trip.

Barry: Give us a snapshot of the company and its international growth.

Swinko: We have about 30 employees. All of our manufacturing is done in our Cleveland, Ohio, location. The business in the U.S. is highly dependent on residential construction. So during the last several years, of course, the housing industry has struggled which would be putting it mildly. In fact, it’s been significantly challenged, and while we have done reasonably well domestically, internationally the expansion has allowed us to actually increase the number of employees and add an additional engineer so that we could continue to support the international business.

Barry: What percentage of total revenues is international?

Swinko: International is about 25 percent with some nice year-over-year growth in the 30-plus percent range.

Barry: Where do you see it going in the future?

Swinko: I would say certainly maintaining those particular increases especially because of the markets where we have a significant presence, like Africa, and as well as South American and Latin American countries.

Barry: Are China and India on the horizon?

Swinko: China, no – partly because of intellectual property concerns but also because we have such strong presence in these other developing countries where we haven’t fully leveraged the market.

Barry: Explain the decision to do the manufacturing in the United States?

Swinko: The foundation of the company was in Cleveland. So there is a strong commitment to manufacturing and assembling as much as we can in the U.S. Quite honestly, there are some very distinct challenges with that because certain manufacturing processes and products are not available in the U.S. or if they are, they’re available at a high price compared to what you can purchase overseas. We do also try to work in Mexico to keep the supply chain as short as we can.

Barry: Is there a value in “Made in America” with your international customers?

Swinko: Without a doubt, especially in the environmental technologies equipment market. They greatly respect the regulation that we’ve had over the years that’s improved our air and water. And made in America or imported from America in many of these countries has a very strong, positive connotation to the equipment.

Barry: Can it make up for the premium pricing that is required?

Swinko: In many cases it can. In particular they do also evaluate whether and how many of your components may have been made outside of the U.S.

Barry: Would you say that you are a better company as the result of your international experience?

Swinko: I would say we’re certainly a better company, and we’re a better company because each of those countries, while they can use the basic equipment, do require some modification, and do require particular levels of service. So it’s really driven some of our innovation of the equipment systems.


No International Job is too Big (or too small) for Florida Company

May 31, 2012

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

Founder and CEO of Ambient Technologies Carlos Lemos was in Washington, D.C. recently to receive the Presidential “E” Award for excellence in exporting.  Lemos earned the award for taking his 55-employee company global with help from the Export Assistance Center in Clearwater, Florida and other programs of the Department of Commerce.  Senior Trade Specialist Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center talked to Lemos after the White House Ceremony.

Barry:  Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your company–which I see means environment in Spanish–when it started and what you provide?

Lemos:  We started our business in 1993.  I worked for a very large consulting firm for 22 years.  And then I decided to take my Brazilian heritage and live the American dream, which is running your own business.  So I started my own company, and I do geology, geophysics, drilling services.  We support companies that are looking to find information that’s below the ground, whether it’s groundwater-related, construction or engineering including mining. 

Barry:  Can you tell us about the main challenge that you faced to enter the international marketplace?

CEO of Ambient Technologies Carlos Lemos (left) helping to drill a new Panama canal.

CEO of Ambient Technologies Carlos Lemos (left) helping to drill a new Panama canal.

Lemos:  Well, the challenges are really enormous when you’re thinking as a small business.  My first attempt to export was going to my native country.  I speak Portuguese and was born in Brazil. I felt comfortable there.  But Brazil was so big and it’s so challenging and it’s so competitive that it didn’t work out that well.  It was great to reunite with family but it wasn’t very good for business.  So I decided to pursue opportunities in countries that weren’t quite so large and where people are comfortable working with smaller companies.  So we started looking at countries in Central America.  I went to these countries and was successful there because of trade missions organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Barry:  Was your domestic business tanking in 2008?

Lemos:  Truly speaking, in 2008, when everything kind of collapsed, I looked at all my rigs parked and I said, what am I going to do with this?  It became a matter of necessity as much as just a whim.  And then by that time I had gone overseas to look at the opportunities, saw Panama as an opportunity and I saw other countries at that time that were looking at doing some other projects.  And I said, “We have to look at an international way to survive.”  And so we took the leap of faith and went over there and took our equipment.  And then when the new canal project started, we had the equipment there and many people didn’t. We were the first American company to work with the consortium that’s building the canal.

Barry:  And how did that happen?  What kind of introductions were made to enable you to compete for that work?

Lemos:  What we did is through the Department of Commerce.  I was able to meet, number one, very important, was the canal authority – the ACP.  We also received introductions to the local engineering community. They said, “We welcome you because we’re going to have more work than we can handle.  So yeah, come on down and work with us.”  And they are very pro-American in Panama.  And they were very glad for us to have gone there.

Barry:  What part of your annual revenue comes from your international activities?

Lemos:  Right now we are about 25 percent, and it’s growing.  We’re being asked to go to Colombia, and that could further expand our revenues.  So I’m looking for the international business to grow.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years, it grows to 50 percent. Another benefit is that bigger U.S. companies are asking us to do international work for them. We’re willing to deal with the headaches of dealing with customs. We’re willing to deal with the inconveniences of the locals that quite frequently are not that bad.  But that’s okay; the big companies can think that.  It gives me more business.  So we take advantage of that.  We do things that nobody wants to do.

Barry:  What sort of challenges do you face in scaling up to be able to serve this growing market?

Lemos:  Well, being small is not easy.  It’s difficult to get financing for a drill rig to take it overseas.  If you go through a conventional bank, they don’t like to see their assets outside the country.   It doesn’t make any difference that I’ve just won a $2 million contract. 

With this new business we’re hoping to qualify for government loan guarantees that can help us do that sort of thing.  Another challenge is finding bilingual technical people:  people that have a degree in science, engineering, that are also bilingual and willing to go overseas for periods of time. 

Barry:  What are the other benefits of selling international besides staying in business and thriving in business?  What are the other gains from doing business outside your own country and culture?

Lemos: Well, it is the human factor of it all.  It’s the reward that you have by interacting with other cultures.  It’s the reward that you get to see that your employees are seeing beyond what’s right here in front of their eyes, that they actually see now the world in a more global view than just right here. 

Barry:  Is Ambient a better company because of its exporting?

Lemos:  By far it’s a better company.

Barry:  Why?

Lemos:  I believe that the employees are proud that we are a global business than when we were just a local business.  There’s something about it that makes them more enthusiastic.  And therefore, you know, the employees are the company.  You have to find the right people who are interested in other cultures. I may hire a biologist to do a job that involves geology. Because of their attitude and their ability to deal with other cultures and deal with other people, they’re by far a better employee.  I love to see when the guys mature into a role of mini-ambassadors. 

Barry:  I think I’m ready to work for you immediately. Seriously, what would be your advice to U.S. companies that aren’t exporting now or only dabbling in it? 

Lemos:  I really believe that one of the things they should do is really get involved with the local Export Assistance Centers of the U.S. Department of Commerce because that’s what was successful for me. Also be prepared that there is a cost in getting started that is not going to be immediate gratification.  Trying to go in put a little money and trying to get big rewards very quickly doesn’t work.