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Trade missions provide gateway to global marketplace

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Old school thinking tells us that conducting business in the global marketplace requires navigational skills that can only be gained from experience. When the experience is not there, most companies are intimidated by the enormity of the opportunity to participate in the global economy. You will be pleased to know that Pennsylvania does not subscribe to old school thinking when it comes to supporting Pennsylvania businesses in their efforts to trade internationally.

As the 10th largest exporter of all 50 states – and the 18th largest economy in the world – Pennsylvania has been able to sustain a well-balanced and healthy export-to-import ratio. Through Pennsylvania’s Office of International Business Development and affiliated organizations like World Trade Center (WTC), Small Business Administration (SBA) and Small Business Development Center (SBDC), there are programs, resources and teams of experts ready to assist your company in strengthening its current position in the global marketplace. There’s also the opportunity to venture into the new world of international commerce.

Regardless of your company’s level of experience in international trading, make the time to learn what services and resources are available to your Pennsylvania-based business. After all, it’s just good old business sense to utilize the tools that the state funds with our tax dollars. One of those tools is International Trade Missions. The state Office of International Business Development conducts trade missions to many countries, several times a year. Each trade mission is led by someone extremely knowledgeable and well established in the business, political and social environments of the trade mission country.

My company, FOCUSED, LLC, recently participated in the Pennsylvania/South Africa Trade Mission. I cannot begin to tell you what a wonderful experience this was for our very small service-based business. But, let me try.

Eight months ago, my partner and I were immersed in the development and launch of a new training program. The International Marketplace was the furthest thing from our minds, until we received an invitation for a World Trade Club event at Lehigh University. It piqued our interest. We were among 60 small and large companies who were given an opportunity to meet with International Trade Representatives from all over the globe. The experience was almost like “speed dating” for business, but the outcomes were much more significant. Attending this event gave us great insight to countries that may be interested in our newly launched training program. Each of the six International Trade Representatives we met with, provided initial feedback on the value and fit our offering might have in their countries. The feedback helped us select the countries we wanted to further explore.

Having previous experience in South Africa, and after receiving a vote of confidence from the South African Trade Representative at the event, our first country choice was clear. We were advised of various opportunities the state offers businesses to connect us with our market of choice. We chose a trade mission.

Once a company makes the decision to proceed, they establish their goals and objectives for the market location to be pursued, and complete a modicum of paperwork. The goals, objectives and marketing materials are forwarded to the International Trade Representative in the country of choice. Along with their in-country trade office team, they start the market research for potential customers, representatives, or other relationships that will help promote and sell your products or services in their country. Appointments are made, travel arrangements are secured and off you go.

Our decision to participate in a state-sponsored Trade Mission maximized our learning experience and increased the value of our time spent in South Africa. Had we chosen to travel and meet our prospects independent of the Trade Mission, we would have missed key activities including presentations by various Consulate Officers and trade specialists. The information gathered from these sessions proved to be invaluable on more than one occasion during and after the Trade Mission. The team assigned to our company from the South African Trade Office was very dynamic. Upon receiving our company’s goals, objectives and marketing materials, they quickly assessed our needs. Their market research was on target and the prospect meetings were very meaningful.

After completing our round of appointments, we identified several key candidates with whom we are currently developing relationships. Our goal is to close our first international sale by mid-summer – a short four to five months after returning home from the Trade Mission. The market research, appointment scheduling and Trade Mission coordination are your reward for being a taxpaying Pennsylvania-based business. There is no charge to your company for these services. And, depending on the size of your company, you may also be eligible for a partial grant reimbursement on your travel expenses, accommodations and other related costs to get your company ready to do business outside the U.S. borders.

By making a trade mission part of your approach to a new market, or reinvigorating an existing market, you will be surprised at how easy it is to navigate the process. If you think you have nothing to offer in the International Marketplace because you are not a manufacturer or you think your company is too small to profit from the global economy, rethink your position and do your homework! The more we can increase the export-to-import ratios in the United States, the more our economy will continue to thrive. Pennsylvania is certainly ahead of the curve. Take advantage of the opportunities and enjoy the growth.

For further information regarding Pennsylvania-hosted trade missions, contact: Larry Nelson at the International Trade Representative Office of International Business Development Department of Community & Economic Development (717) 346-2256 Commonwealth Keystone Building 400 North Street, 4th Floor Harrisburg, PA 17120-0225

Together as FOCUSED, LLC, Joni Naugle and Bonnie Sussman-Versace help clients navigate a wide variety of business challenges and opportunities. A business leader and entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience, she was the founder and operating principal of a $4 million commercial interior design and furnishings firm; the founder and chairperson of the Small Business Roundtable; and creator of the first partnering alliance in the commercial interior design field between firms located in South Africa and the United States.

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