Foreign trade appears to be trending well for U.S. and Colorado companies.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, exports for July totaled $95 billion, a $2.8-billion or 3 percent increase from June. Exports increased year-to-date by 12.7 percent for a total $656 billion compared to 2003, during which more than $1 trillion was recorded for the year.
Colorado’s exports for the first four months of 2004 totaled $2.14 billion, which was an increase of 16 percent over last year.
According to the Small Business Administration, small business (500 employees or less) exports account for about $300 billion or 30 percent of all U.S. exports.
Assisting Colorado small-business owners who are currently exporting or interested in exporting are a multitude of local and state organizations. On Sept. 29, those organizations met in Colorado Springs to discuss available resources and to address export financing and ways to secure overseas payments.
The SBA, in coordination with the Colorado Springs Office of International Affairs, the International Small Business Development Center, the U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Services and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, sponsored the symposium, which took place at the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Joe Ringer, senior business development officer from the Export-Import Bank’s Houston office, talked about how to find export transaction financing and how to ensure that payments are received once goods are shipped. Ringer discussed letters of credits, documentation, money transfers and local financing opportunities.
Dennis Chrisbaum, the Colorado regional manager for the SBA International Trade Program, talked about SBA loans for exporters and distributed information about private and public institutions that can assist with export financing.
Of first importance, however, for Springs manufacturers who are thinking about exporting goods or need help afterward are the available resources. In Colorado there are numerous organizations – all working together – that have created information-friendly, hands-on assistance programs for the novice and the experienced exporter.
The process can begin with a call to George Boutin, the executive director of the Colorado Springs Office of International Affairs.
“My principal function is acting as a portal to the other services available,” Boutin said. “There are a lot of people thinking ‘why should I even think about exporting,’ and I want them to know there are many resources – local, state and federal – available to them to help with those decisions.”
Boutin said his responsibilities include making companies aware of the resources and bringing the resources to the companies. “My office is an information center,” he said. “As a one-person office, I can best be used to connect businesses in the Springs with the proper resources.”
Boutin said that through educational events, such as the seminar, experts are brought to business owners, which saves time and hassles. “People don’t have time to drive to Denver to visit with these people,” he said. Along with plans for future seminars, Boutin has arranged for a few of the Denver export organization representatives, including the SBA and the U.S. Commercial Service, to meet in the Springs monthly with exporters and those interested in exporting their goods.
The Springs is grabbing its share of the export market. Dollar export amounts are no longer broken down by cities, Boutin said. However, when those figures were last reported four or five years ago, the Springs contributed about $1 billion in exports, he said. That’s enough incentive to bring the experts south.
Danielle Dooley is one of five Denver-based international trade specialists working for the U.S. Commercial Service who meets with exporters in the Springs on a regular basis. She said the Denver office specialists helped 204 Colorado export companies bring in a combined worth of more than $44 million during the 2004 federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Services has been assisting exporters for 24 years, she said. In 2003, the department’s 1,800 trade specialists helped businesses generate export sales worth more than $34 billion. “Our general focus is identifying the market and the buyer, but we will help with any aspect of the export business,” Dooley said. “We have great resources to help a company with all their needs – from A to Z.”
The specialists have international business backgrounds.
“We’ve all seen the trade business from both sides,” said Dooley, who is looking forward to having a regular presence in the Springs. But, Dooley said that any of the specialists will come to the Springs “on the fly” to meet with a business owner who has an interest or needs help with exporting.
“In today’s world anyone can export from anywhere,” she said. “We want to ensure that everyone has the necessary resources to market their products overseas.”
Claus Weidner reiterated Dooley’s statement. “Anyone can ship anything to anywhere, too, no matter the size, with the proper methods,” said Weidner, an international trade consultant with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ Small Business Development Center. “We can bring oil field equipment from Rangely, Colo., and ship it overseas. Just because we are in a landlocked situation does not mean it can’t get there with qualified intermediaries.”
Weidner said Colorado freight companies make it easy for rural exporters to get their products into the supply chain.
Finding companies that transport products overseas and directing exporters to them is just one aspect of the SBDC’s international program. Weidner said he counsels about 25 people per quarter about exporting and importing. “We provide counseling at no cost, and the SBDC should be the person’s first stop,” he said. “Most people have no idea where to go for even the most elementary process – they have no idea how to get started, and we can help them before, during and after.”
The SBDC also performs market research. “In some instances, we might tell someone there is no market for the product,” Weidner said. “But at least we are able to make a scientific evaluation of the situation, and then it’s not an exporter’s fly-by-night decision.”
He said some of the obstacles that exporters encounter relate to CE regulations (a European designation). “CE regulations are mandatory in Europe, and if a company does not have CE designation, we can help them,” Weidner said. ISO (International Standards of Organizations) certifications are not mandatory like the CE regulations, but he said overseas buyers would rather deal with ISO-certified companies because of the “traceable quality controls.” Weidner said that advising exporters about certifications is vital to a company’s success.
The SBDC also assists business owners who want to import goods into the United States. The Department of Commerce reported that imports were up in July from 2003, gaining 14.2 percent year-to-date for a total of $995.3 billion, although the monthly total declined by one percent June.
Weidner said there are at least 40 U.S. government agencies that enforce regulations governing what and how much a person can import into the United States. There is a dollar limit to what an individual can bring into the United States and sell on the streets, and no one – individual or business – can bring in products that are illegal, such as weapons, endangered species, ivory or animal skins.
Speaking of legalities, Weidner spends some of his time teaching business owners and others about the hazards of overseas schemes that affect the bottom line of unsuspecting companies. Nigeria has been notorious for engaging U.S. companies in fraudulent business transactions, he said. It’s best to research any international operation before doing business with them, he said.
Weidner also refers exporters to banks that deal in international trade financing, money transfers and foreign exchange transactions.
His expertise serves his position well. Born and educated in Hamburg, Germany, Weidner majored in international trade and post-college worked as the director of various overseas marketing operations for U.S. manufacturers in Iowa, California and Colorado before joining the SBDC in April 2002, when it added an international trade development and training program for Colorado.
The international program receives its funding from the SBDC, the state and UCCS. Weidner said the local international office of the SBDC is under-utilized, even though it can help exporters and importers with everything from compliance to market research. And Weidner encourages all companies to look at the overseas market.
“A company that has the potential to export should be seriously looking at doing just that,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s population lives outside of the United States. It’s a huge market, and every company has a fair chance of getting its fair share of that market.”