Posts Tagged ‘E-Awards’

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World Trade Week: Celebrating the Achievements of American Exporters

May 22, 2017

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

Sarah Kemp is the Acting Deputy Under Secretary at the International Trade Administration

This month, the International Trade Administration (ITA) joins the world in celebrating World Trade Month. In fact, this week is recognized as World Trade Week (May 21-27).

Nearly 295,000 U.S. companies exported goods in 2015. In fact, 97.6 percent of these companies were small- or medium sized businesses, with fewer than 500 employees. This is a perfect time to celebrate the achievements of American exporters, particularly small-and medium sized businesses.

Today, Secretary Wilbur Ross welcomed hundreds of U.S. company representatives to the Department of Commerce in honor of the President’s “E” award. The Award was created by Executive Order of the President in recognition of a firm or organization that has made significant contributions to the increase of American exports. For example, previous recipients have included; Chicago-based Garrett Popcorn which sells gourmet popcorn from retail shops, and has expanded to sell their products throughout Asia and the Middle East; Nanci’s Frozen Yogurt of Mesa, Arizona, which makes and sells soft serve, flavorings, and smoothie mixes to frozen yogurt chains and restaurants in dozens of countries around the world; and Hernon Manufacturing, Inc. of Sanford, Florida, which makes high-performance adhesives, sealants,  and precision processing equipment, and exports to 44 countries.

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Secretary Wilbur Ross congratulates winners of the 2017 President’s E Awards at the Department of Commerce

Whether you are a small business or a huge corporation, here at ITA, we are charged with helping U.S. exporters and workers succeed in the global marketplace. We have a number of resources to help. Throughout the month, our Industry & Analysis sector leads will be releasing new Top Markets reports, adding to a collection of sector-specific reports that are designed to help U.S. exporters compare markets across borders, using our unique combination of market analysis, data and economic modeling. Each Top Markets report includes commentary on opportunities, trends, and challenges facing U.S. exporters in the largest potential markets, allowing exporters to target their resources at the most impactful opportunities.

ITA also has resources to help current exporters challenge unfair trade practices. The agency’s Office of Trade Agreements Negotiations and Compliance (TANC) is another great resource for U.S. exporters. They specialize in working with U.S. businesses to remove unfair foreign government-imposed trade barriers.

Our unique role in promoting exports, attracting investment, and leveling the playing field continues to produce results. Last year, we assisted over 28,000 U.S. companies (nearly 90% of which were small-and-medium-sized enterprises). Our efforts enabled $59 billion in U.S. exports. We also facilitated more than $5.3 billion in foreign investment into the United States; administered 368 Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties orders; and successfully removed, reduced, or prevented 110 foreign trade barriers. In total, our work supported more than 300,000 American jobs last year alone.

Our resources help exporters at every stage of the process, from becoming an exporter to helping your company face unfair trade barriers. Whether you are a big or small, new to exporting or have been exporting for decades- we are here to help. Every day, we strive to expand opportunities for American businesses through new markets. Our U.S.-based export assistance centers are in more than 100 cities, and our foreign commercial service offices  are in more than 75 markets around the world. Together we help U.S. businesses tap into global markets in ways they may not have been able to otherwise.

Throughout World Trade Month, events across the country are being held to recognize the importance of exporting. I encourage you to follow ITA on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We will be covering a series of events throughout the month.

It is an honor to see the profound impact our agency has had on exporting and helping clients across the country. We would love to hear your story! Tell us how ITA has supported job creation at your company. Make sure to tag us on Twitter, @TradeGov,

 

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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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Attila’s Guide to Conquering Export Markets

August 29, 2013

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

Attila Szucs started Advanced Superabrasives in Nashville, North Carolina, with one employee in the early 1990’s. In the years that followed he grew the domestic market for his products, then expanded internationally during the U.S. economic downturn.

Szucs’s company has used International Trade Administration services like the Gold Key matching service to develop international markets around the world. His company was recognized by the Commerce Department with an “E” Award for exporting. He shared his story with Doug Barry, an international trade specialist with the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center.

Barry: Tell us about your company.

Szucs: The company was founded in 1993 in Nashville, North Carolina. And basically we started with myself and another person, and today we’re exporting to 16 countries.

We manufacture super-abrasive grinding wheels for other manufacturers. Super-abrasive grinding wheels are a product that actually grinds hard materials such as ceramic, glass, quartz, steel–all materials that need to be manufactured to very high tolerances. And the best way to do that is through grinding.

Barry: How did you get the entrepreneur bug?

Szucs: It was from my father. He had his own business. He started his own business in the United States not too long after we arrived here. And he is the entrepreneur in the family, and that’s where I got it from.

Barry: What was the biggest challenge that you faced in the development of your company?

Szucs: We started with absolutely no sales in 1993, and we did a lot of research and development and testing to improve our product. And slowly but surely we started penetrating the market within the United States.

We started exporting in 1995 to Canada. And after about 2002, when the economy took a hit in United States, we started to look how we could diversify so we can insulate ourselves from economic downturn. That’s when we decided that we really needed to look at exports, and we started exporting to China and to Brazil.

Barry: How did you manage?

Szucs: We were lucky. We actually started talking to the U.S. Department of Commerce, from Charlotte, NC, and it was just absolutely wonderful how we were treated and how much help they were. Through their Gold Key program, that’s how we got into Brazil. And that program is so helpful that they set everything up for you and basically all we had to do is show up. They even helped us with an interpreter and they set up all the appointments for us. It was a wonderful experience.

So from that point on we really tried to work very, very closely with the U.S. Department of Commerce. And in North Carolina we also had the North Carolina Department of Commerce, who was also very helpful in helping us navigate through the exporting issues that may have come up.

Barry: But how did you know to contact these people to begin with? You’ve mentioned just showing up. That’s something that a lot of U.S. companies fail to do.

Szucs: Most small U.S. companies don’t know about that tremendous asset that we have, whether it’s from the federal level or the state level. We actually heard from another company who used the U.S. Department of Commerce which helped them export. And that’s why we contacted them and wanted to see how we could pursue the same route.

Barry: Have you learned things in your dealings with other countries – China, Brazil, elsewhere – that have made you a better company?

Szucs: We just came back from Seoul, Korea. We participated in Trade Winds Asia, a U.S. Commerce organized trade mission. And again, I can’t say enough about it because it is a tremendous amount of help to any U.S. company, especially small companies like ours, because we get to meet companies from the region – potential customers, potential distributors. Plus, we learn about the culture of each country in the region and what they’re looking for so we can better prepare ourselves when we start dealing with these companies. It was invaluable for us.

Barry: Have you modified your product at all, or modified your approach to doing business as a result of what you’ve learned by selling to people in other cultures?

Szucs: We absolutely had to, because different cultures have different needs and we really have to cater to their needs. We can’t use the same approach in Europe that we’re using in Asia.

The United States does have a good following. People around the world, especially in Asia, they look up to United States and to United States products. So if you’re sincere and you have a good product, you have a very good chance of selling overseas, especially in Asia.

Barry: Are you confident that after you recent trip to Asia that you’ll add to your current collection of country markets?

Szucs: Yes, I’m looking forward to adding Korea and Japan. Japan is the crown jewel for me.

Barry: Will the free-trade trade agreement with Korea help?

Szucs: I think it will. Anytime we have a free trade agreement, it definitely helps. And it removes some of the obstacles.

Barry: What’s your advice to U.S. companies that aren’t exporting now?

Szucs: You don’t have to be a large company to export. That’s number one. And we’re a prime example. We’re not a large company. Second, take one country at a time. And most important, get help. And I would highly recommend using the U.S. Department of Commerce and your own local state department of commerce, because it will help navigate those troubled waters of export. Depending on which country you’re trying to get into, it could be a tremendous help to have people help you with the exports.

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No Stalling on the Ride to Export Markets

July 29, 2013

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

A dirt biker rides a bike up a mountain.

Two of the first autoclutches made by Rekluse were exported to Europe.

Rekluse makes clutches for off-road dirt bikes in a small factory in Boise, Idaho. The company’s founder, who begged his parents for a dirt bike and got one at age eight, got the idea for the business when searching, unsuccessfully, for a clutch to prevent engine stalls with his bike.

Now, Rekluse is selling clutches to dirt bike enthusiasts all over the world.

The company has worked with the International Trade Administration and other government agencies to develop an impressive international business presence, earning a presidential E-Award for Export Excellence in 2013.

On hand in Washington to accept the award was export manager Alison Kelsey, who talked with the Global Knowledge Center’s Doug Barry.

Barry: What does your company make?

Kelsey: Our company invented and manufactures auto clutches for dirt bikes. We’re in the off-road segment now and looking to go into the street market later this year. The product is called an auto-clutch. At a basic level, it prevents your motorcycle from stalling. And so it’s an aftermarket, bolt-on product that has advantages for beginners all the way up to professionals.

Barry: How did the company come into being?

Kelsey: The founder, Al Youngwerth, had tried a product that was kind of like ours, and it didn’t work well. It ended up damaging his motorcycle. He had a difficult time with their customer service. He’s an engineer, so his mind just started to work and he created the first auto-clutch 11 years ago. He just started from scratch and learned how to machine the product.

A dirk biker is executing a jump on a dirt course.

Exports are now about 30 percent of Rekluse’s business. The company exports to 41 countries.

Barry: How has the company grown?

Kelsey: Early on, two of the first clutches that were ever made went to customers in Europe. We started exporting very early on and took requests.

But three years ago, when I came into the company, we said: “We have a real opportunity here to grow this and to put best practices in place, bring in the infrastructure and really grow.”

We’ve seen tremendous growth in the last couple of years. Exports are now about 30 percent of our business. We have 18 distributors and through them, we export to 41 countries.

Overall, exports have enabled the company to grow more quickly. We have a very seasonal business and selling to markets all over the world helps us even out that seasonality and we can keep the balance up throughout the year.

Barry: What was the most important thing that helped the company grow systematically?

Kelsey: I think for us it as the commitment of the company to export, to know what it was going to take and all be on the same page and ready to invest in that, and then for all of us to have an understanding of the opportunity. When we have in-house R&D and production, everyone needs to be on the same page. So that was the most important first step: getting everyone on board from product design all the way up–we’re planning for exporting.

Barry: Was there a big challenge that you have encountered, or the founder encountered, in making the company successful?

Kelsey: I think the biggest challenge we’ve had is probably just limited resources. We’re a small company. We have specific challenges in each market that we work to overcome, but I’ve really found that since we’ve connected to the U.S. Commercial Service, we know where to get the answer to whatever situation has come up.

Barry: How specifically has the Commercial Service out there in Boise helped you?

Kelsey: Well, we’re really fortunate with our local Export Assistance Center office and Amy Benson specifically – I’d like to mention her. She has done everything from mentor the leadership team in our company, to prepare us for the commitment of exporting.

We’ve taken advantage of Gold Key Service, which finds buyers for us. I was in Brazil earlier this year, and to have everything set up – you just arrive and the Commercial Service people at the embassy have got it dialed up. We had fantastic meetings. Really great opportunities came out of that.

We also used the International Partner Search in Europe last year, which provided us a list of qualified buyers. So those are the services we’ve used, but Amy also just connected us to all the other export resources in our community. I think we know everyone now: the SBA, the Idaho District Export Council, many others. It’s our local network, and it’s great.

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U.S. Sock Maker Pedals Through Trials to Reach Global Markets

July 31, 2012

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

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

Shane Cooper is president of DeFeet International, a maker of cycling and other socks in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He’s a client of the Charlotte Export Assistance Center.  Over the years and despite substantial adversity, he has built the business that now includes distributors in 35 countries.  I chatted with him during his trip to Washington to receive the Presidential “E” Award for excellence in exporting.

Barry:  Tell us what you make and how DeFeet started.  Where did you get the idea?

Gerd Klose, Managing Director of DeFeet's distributor in Germany Lynn Moretz, VP International Sales and Shane Cooper, founder of DeFeet display their products during the Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. (Photo DeFeet)

Gerd Klose, Managing Director of DeFeet’s distributor in Germany Lynn Moretz, VP International Sales and Shane Cooper, founder of DeFeet display their products during the Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. (Photo DeFeet)

Cooper:  My wife and I were bike racers back in the early ’90s.  And in the summertime, she was supplementing her income by racing bikes as an amateur and I was spending her supplemental income as an amateur on my bike racing.  And my father was a sock knitting machine technician and sold the parts.  And so I grew up in the sock industry.  And I was a cyclist.  One day, I decided to make socks to pay for my racing.  It just kind of happened from there.  We made the world’s best sock for cycling and that was 20 years ago.

Barry:  Is that a pair of your socks on your feet?

Cooper:  Absolutely.  This is the Peloton, made of merino wool.  And if you notice, there’s a group of cyclists.  And the yellow jersey’s right there. And “peloton” is a group of cyclists.

Barry:  Tell us your biggest challenge in going international.  You had this great background and created the product.  But very few U.S. businesses go outside the country looking for customers.

Cooper:  It happened by chance.  We created product that world-class cyclists were taking over to Europe.  And we had this product on their feet.  So there was a desire from the customer before we had international distribution.  And so our brand grew from there.  Cycling in Europe is tremendous in size, similar to American baseball and football.  I was struggling myself, not being a true businessman.  And I met this wonderful man, Lynn Moretz, who came into our company and became my mentor and helped us capitalize on this desire that we had created as a brand into a real business.  And so Lynn was able to take it into these countries and give structure behind the madness that I had created.

Barry:  Your product was transported by your U.S. customers and introduced to potential international buyers to where it really became a process and a strategy.

Copper:  Yeah, process and strategy, pricing structures, the advent of the Internet and what was going to play there and how it was going to actually work and these international customers over the course of the last 20 years were coming to our website, finding the product and going, “where can I get it”?  They would see it on the best riders in the world.  And they’re asking where they could get it.  I was too busy paying attention to R&D and the product to really focus on that.  And then Lynn came in and provided that structure to actually make it happen.

Barry:  What in your mind was the biggest challenge that you overcame and that your collaborator overcame in that area?

Cooper:  Well, unfortunately the year that my collaborator, Lynn Moretz, came to DeFeet, we burned down.  We lost everything we had – 2001, October, right after 9/11.  And so we had nine months of no production.

Barry:  That would be a crushing thing to happen for most people.  How did you manage to rise from the ashes, as it were?

Cooper:  I would like to say that I cut my hair off and used that to rebuild the building.  But I think the hair came off in the process somewhere.  We had insurance that covered the building, the equipment and the contents.  And then we had insurance for business loss, income loss, which turned into a court battle for three years.

Barry:  What happened next?

Cooper:  And so when we finally got the check, we had to pay taxes out of that money because it’s business income.  So for seven years – the first nine years of our business, we were profitable every year and growing organically.  The banks loved us – or the banks hated us because we actually paid the loans off too early. We had seven years where we made no money after the fire.  We became profitable again and started winning the business back.   OK, keep this in mind.  It’s 2008.  We’re profitable that year just in time for the worst economic downturn in world history that we know about, other than the Depression.  And the fortunate thing is that these bicycles were being pulled out of the garage and people were putting tires on it and commuting. And it made the bicycle shops flush with cash.  The dollar was going crazy with the euro. So all of a sudden, after seven years of struggling, we made it through.  And now, we’re four years in with profits again.

Barry:  Did international expansion save you?

Cooper:  If we didn’t have our international business, gosh, I don’t think we would have made it.

Barry:  So you and your wife are pretty persistent.  Do you think that persistence is a useful skill to have in the international marketplace?

Cooper:  I think persistence is something that you have to have to be in business in any country.  In my opinion, it may come from the bike racing that we did that hardened us and toughened us up.  And we’re not quitters.  We could have shut our plant down and moved it to Asia and had socks made over there.  But we decided to stay put.  We never missed a pay period with our employees.  And we buy local yarn and boxes.  So even though we’re only 38 employees now, the benefit is pretty widespread when we buy locally.

Barry:  Why not outsource to China?  Wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run?

Cooper:  Cheaper – that’s a good word. I prefer the word value.  And what we prefer to use that word value is for long-lasting goodness, affordable price and a sock that’s going to last 10 years.  I don’t like the homogenization of other sock brands making their product in the same plant that I’m making mine in and all of a sudden my trade secrets are gone.  I don’t like the environmental issue. I don’t like the lead in the toys, the drywall issues with radioactive materials and the lunch boxes with the toxic waste in them.  You hit a nerve there.  And so American-made to me is control.  It’s American jobs.  It’s quality, and mostly it’s value.

Barry:  And when did the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Commercial Service in particular come into the story?

Cooper:  Anytime we have a question about a tariff, or when we’re dealing with Australia and we’re not sure what to do, or a new free trade (agreement), or some new idea comes up, we call the (Export Assistance Center) office in Charlotte.  Then there are international textile agreements and an understanding of how the sock is structured with what material and where the fibers come from and what category it fits in.  You guys have been a great help there.  You’ve got to remember, I was a dumb bike racer, a bad one at that.  I wasn’t a businessman.

Barry:  Have you learned things from your customers in Europe that you’ve been able to apply to your products that have helped you sell other places?

Cooper:  We get input from the word’s best riders.  Paolo Bettini, the Italian national champion, Olympic champion – sat down with me and we had a translator on what he needed in a sock. We then listened to him and made that sock available to the public.  So we used the world’s best cyclists to develop the sock, like astronauts, and then we took it to their fan base.

Barry:  Is it a trade secret or can you tell us what he told you?

Cooper:  That is a trade secret.

Barry:  Can you share some advice with us for other companies that are thinking about exporting?

Cooper:  My advice is figure out what your strengths are.  Use every available government agency’s help as well to really make your life a lot easier.  If you don’t have the skills or time to so the international, hire someone who can do it.

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Overcoming Cultural Challenges in Selling a Product Worldwide

June 15, 2012

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

Elena Stegemann, International Business Manager for NuStep Inc., a specialty fitness equipment maker, visited the White House recently to receive the Presidential E Award for accomplishments as a small business exporter.  She shared her Michigan-based company’s story as well as her own personal journey with me.

Barry The founder of your company is a serial entrepreneur.

Stegemann:  Yes. Our owner and CEO, Dick Sarns, is a biomedical engineer.  He actually had another company before this one.  He is the creator of one of the first heart-lung machines in the world.  He had a company under a different name which he took global, by the way, and was also the winner of an E Award back in 1974.  So we have a good history here.

Elena Stegemann, International Business Manager for NuStep Inc. operating one NuStep's machines at Arab Health 2012 (Photo NuStep, Inc.)

Elena Stegemann, International Business Manager for NuStep Inc. operating one NuStep’s machines at Arab Health 2012. (Photo NuStep, Inc.)

Barry Did the heart-lung experience lead to this more recent venture?

Stegemann: After he sold that business and after he had been immersed in the experience of working with people who had cardiac problems and got to have such a problem that they needed a heart-lung machine, he decided to focus with his next company on prevention.  Prevention, we now know, is exercise.  But 20, 30 years ago, that was not a well-known fact.

Barry: The business is based on an exercise machine?

Stegemann:  Yes.  So he has developed a machine that allows people to exercise in situations where they typically wouldn’t be able to just walk into a gym and hop onto a treadmill because they have some kind of a physical condition that prevents them from doing that.  Sometimes it’s just old age.  Sometimes it’s obesity.  Sometimes it’s medical conditions like multiple sclerosis or stroke that make exercise very challenging.

We manufacture a seated cross-trainer. And because of its unique design, when a person is able to move at least one limb – so let’s say your right hand – and the rest of your body is paralyzed, because of the design of the machine, once you move your right hand, everything else moves in a passive response. Some people have not seen their legs move either ever or in a very long time.  And they are able to sit down, get on a NuStep.  Their legs get strapped in with special adaptive devices that allow them to be locked in an ergonomically-correct position.  Then they start using their hands and lo and behold, their legs are moving.

Barry:  The patients must be amazed. 

Stegemann: You have to understand it’s not just a physical transformation.  It’s everything about that person changes in that one moment.  So we get to bring those moments to people now around the world, not just in the U.S.

Barry:  Finding buyers around the world didn’t happen overnight. What was the biggest challenge in bringing this technology to a global market?

Stegemann:  I would say the biggest challenge that we face on a daily basis entering new markets is the mindset that people have in other parts of the world that exercise is not necessary.  We now kind of almost intuitively accept the idea that exercise is a critical aspect of the wellbeing of every person – young, old, healthy, disabled, whoever you are.  There are many people around the world who really have not embraced this idea yet.  So when I walk in there and I try to tell them about this, you know, exciting opportunity for their residents, they look at me like I’m crazy, like what, you want grandma to exercise, she has worked hard her whole life, she needs to sit on the couch and drink tea and watch the telly, right?

Barry:  How did the Department of Commerce help with a challenge that goes to the heart of the acceptance of your product among disbelieving potential customers?

Stegemann:  Early on when I took on the role of international business manager for the company, one of the things I was tasked with is creation of a go-to-market strategy, how are we going to do this, how is this little company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was going to reach out to the rest of the world. I made the decision that we were going to work with distributors around the world and we were going to build up a team of really sophisticated visionary-type of companies who really got the idea and understood the challenge that they were going to have in creating awareness for our product in their market. This is where the U.S. Commercial Service has been an invaluable resource to us.

Barry:  What did they do for you?

Stegemann: They’ve helped us find and checked out distributors for us in Brazil, China, Mexico, Korea and other countries.  I went to a medical device trade show in Germany and the U.S. Commercial Service staffed the USA Pavilion.  We had our own interpreter.  He made appointments for us.  And as a result of those meetings, we ended up having distributorship agreements that are still in place in Germany, in Australia and in Italy – not bad, okay?  This was the first year that we decided to go international.  And if we hadn’t gone to MEDICA and hadn’t used the Commercial Service, I think that would have delayed us by several years.

Barry: Give us a sense of what international sales mean to your company?

Stegemann:  We are now in 25 countries, which is pretty good.  Our international business is now about 15 percent of our revenue.  So if we didn’t have that it would hurt. And that’s 15 percent, from almost nothing.  So we’ve added people.  We’re hiring people.  We’re keeping other people not just in our company but other people working with trucking, logistics, banking, letters of credit, packaging, all kinds of people are working because we are shipping containers of stuff.  We also make a priority of hiring local people who lost their jobs, some of them from the auto industry.  They know how to make things.

Barry:  And you’re helping keep us employed at the U.S. Commercial Service, and we thank you.

Stegemann:  And that too, exactly.  I’m glad.

Barry: As you’ve traveled around to the nursing homes, hospitals, tradeshows and so forth, are you learning anything that has made NuStep a better company?

Stegemann:  Absolutely.  It’s been an additional benefit for us because when I go to trade shows, when I go to visit with customers or potential customers in other countries, they’re asking me questions, like, well, can you product do this, can you do that?  Sometimes the answer is: I don’t know; we’ve never thought of that because in the U.S. no one has ever asked us this question.  I feel like being a global company is giving us a competitive advantage over other companies because we may see a trend that will eventually come to the U.S.  So we have the opportunity to see the future.

Barry:  Can you give us an example of one maybe innovation or change that you made on your device as a result of something you observed somewhere?

Stegemann:  We are always innovating our product line, and use ideas that we get from the tradeshows we attend globally, but unfortunately I am not at liberty to disclose any details just yet.

Barry:  You recently went to the White House to receive the Presidential award.  You told me you were born in the Soviet Union.  What was going through your mind?  You said you were considered at one time as the enemy.

Stegemann:  If somebody had told me back then that I was going to be a U.S. citizen one day, that I was going to travel and represent the United States one day with an American passport and that I would end up invited to the White House one day, I would have just laughed.  I mean, it was just so incredibly unbelievable.  To people all over the world I’ve met, I’m the lady from America.  I’m sorry.  I get very emotional.

Barry:  As a woman out in the world, is that an advantage or disadvantage or is it nothing?

Stegemann:  It’s all of those. I see it as an advantage.  So I just treat it as such.  Whether it is or it isn’t is up to the other person to decide.  Being a businesswoman and dipping your toe in the waters is a transformational opportunity–for myself but also for other people that I interact with.

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Helping to Drive the Export Economy

June 5, 2012

Francisco Sánchez is the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.

June is only a few days old, but it’s already been a special month for me personally.

Last Friday, I was both honored and humbled to receive the “Excellence in Public Sector Service Award” from the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States (CAMACOL).

Based out of my home state of Florida, the organization is one of the most influential minority business associations in the nation. For decades, it has done great work to open new doors of opportunity for U.S. businesses, and I greatly appreciate CAMACOL’s recognition of my work in the global marketplace.

Under Secretary Francisco Sánchez during the Healthcare Technology and Policy Trade Mission (Photo: Eduardo Sanchez)

Under Secretary Francisco Sánchez during the Healthcare Technology and Policy Trade Mission (Photo: Eduardo Sanchez)

However, as I always say, I don’t do this work alone. I have the pleasure of serving with the talented staff of the International Trade Administration (ITA).  Located in roughly 100 U.S. cities, and more than 70 countries, they work tirelessly to represent the interests of American businesses in markets all over the world.

As you’ll see in this month’s edition of the International Trade Update, they continue to do great work to help American-made products reach as many international consumers and markets as possible.

We held Trade Winds — Asia, an event to help U.S. companies, across a wide-range of sectors, explore the incredible opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. goods exports to the region totaled nearly $900 billion in 2011 — a 15 percent increase from 2010.  Incredibly, there is potential to do more, and we are working to help companies make the most of this promise.

Additionally, in Hong Kong, Commercial Officers from ITA organized the largest ever Filmart conference, bringing together American film companies to meet with regional distributors from across Asia.  This business forum, and others like it, ensures that American entertainment companies are well positioned to prosper in this important market.

I was also proud to lead a delegation of 17 U.S. companies on the first U.S. Healthcare Policy Trade Mission to Mexico.  The Mexican healthcare sector has invested an estimated $500 million in healthcare information technology systems; its government is expanding healthcare coverage to all citizens, and with 4 percent economic growth expected in the country for 2012, this is an ideal market for U.S. medical sector products and services.

One final highlight from last month: we celebrated American exporters at the President’s “E” and “E Star” annual awards ceremony, which recognizes those who make significant contributions to the U.S. export industry. The event was held at the White House with special guests Commerce Secretary John Bryson, and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama.  A record 41 companies were honored for their excellence, and, in the larger picture, the event emphasized how important U.S. exports are to America’s economy and future.

The numbers are clear: in 2011, the total value of U.S. exports reached a record $2.1 trillion; these exports supported nearly 10 million jobs at a time when putting people to work is a national priority.  That’s why ITA remains firmly committed to helping companies sell products that are “Made in America” in as many markets as possible.

One example: when this newsletter edition publishes, I am leading a trade mission to Russia focused on clean technology and energy efficiency.  The Russian government has stated that the industry is a key to a modern economy, and we’re determined to ensure that U.S. products are a part of this growth.  And over the next few weeks, ITA will have a number of announcements so keep in contact with us.

June is poised to be a productive month.  As I stated earlier in this column, it’s already been special for me.  I was honored to receive an award for my public service.  But, I don’t do my work to get awards; I do it to make a positive difference for U.S. businesses.  And each new day brings new opportunities to do this work and make that difference.

Get in touch with ITA, and those opportunities could be yours.