Colorado exports increased almost 2 percent last year and have risen11 percent since 2001, thanks in part to a federal government program that assists small businesses with their initial foray into foreign markets.
More than 2,100 Colorado companies are now doing business outside the United States, said Paul Bergman, Denver-based director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center.
“Even the smaller companies are enjoying expansion overseas,” he said. “We have helped some mountain biking stores, sporting goods stores find markets; there’s also a market for safety equipment from Colorado Springs.”
Bergman was in Colorado Springs earlier this week for a meeting with U.S. trade officials stationed in Central and South America.
His boss, Israel Hernandez, made his third trip to Colorado as the assistant secretary for trade promotion and director general of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. His job, Hernandez said, is to let businesses know they can trade overseas – with the help of his department.
“Based on what they do, we can help them figure out which markets are best for their products,” he said. “And there are booming markets out there – China, India – places where companies can do very well.”
Hernandez oversees 150 offices in more than 80 countries, as well as 100 domestic offices in 47 states, which provide a network of assistance for small businesses that want to export products.
Prior to his current position, Hernadez was senior adviser to the secretary of commerce. He also served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and as a deputy to senior adviser Karl Rove.
“We helped one company in Grand Junction start selling their product,” Hernandez said. “It was just three women in a garage, making skiwear for children. So, the business can really be any size, and we can help find the right market.”
The United States has signed more than 11 free-trade agreements, including contracts with Singapore, Chile, Bahrain and Australia, which provide a marketplace for U.S. goods, Hernandez said. Some of the agreements, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreements, mean that the closest export markets are not far away.
“Canada is an excellent place to do business,” he said. “It doesn’t get better than doing business there. They have a mature economy, they speak English. It’s a good place for a lot of people to start. Companies don’t need expertise about the market – that’s where we come in. We can do market research, offer perspectives and opportunities to enter markets that people are not familiar with.”
Hernandez said that his office can help with most of the work necessary before traveling to a location – making the trip easier for the business owner.
“By the time they actually go to the country, they know everything they need to know,” he said. “We set them up with interpreters, with reliable market contacts. We can plan the itinerary so no time is wasted.”
Many companies have never considered exporting, Bergman said.
“Ninety-five percent of the worlds’ consumers live outside the United States,” he said. “Exporting helps companies grow and compete and those that think beyond our borders have a competitive edge in today’s global marketplace.”
Mexico is the largest consumer of Colorado goods, with imports increasing by 153 percent during the past four years. Imports also increased to China, Canada and South Korea, Bergman said.
Both men said that companies that are doing well in the United States also can perform well in other markets.
“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t consider entering another market,” Hernandez said. Our office doesn’t want to be the best kept secret in government. Companies in the U.S. don’t have to become experts in every overseas market. It’s what we’re here for. We live in a globalized world, and it’s in their best interest to be engaged in other markets. If they aren’t; they are losing out.”