Colorado Springs is used to being at the top of the class.
We get ranked No. 1 or in the top 10 in dozens of important lists about community success. However, the newest report released by the Brookings Institute on its study on exports in the Intermountain region does not give our area our usual high marks.
Brookings studied the Rocky Mountain metropolitan regions from Boise to Phoenix and none of us came out with our customary A+.
However, with the current coordinated effort of our many business-support organizations, such as our higher-educational facilities, incubators, and the development of our Southern Colorado Business Partnership and others, we are poised to launch our region more effectively into the global marketplace.
Why is exporting important for our community?
Communities with higher exporting percentages relative to GNP fare better during recession.
Nationally, 72 percent of exporters are small businesses with 20 or fewer employees. Colorado Springs does not want to miss an opportunity to buffer ourselves from recession; our small businesses should be able to look at customers outside the U.S. in order to expand or guard themselves from national customer cycles.
We aren’t exporting to our best potential trading partners: Mexico and Canada.
We have great excuses: We lack an international airport; we are an inland state; we have component parts and therefore they are counted in the final product produced somewhere else. When we had a tech bust, we lost a majority of what we export; we need more manufacturing.
All of these do have an impact, but they shouldn’t mean we aren’t able to export; the opportunity of new markets outside of our borders remains relevant.
What can we do to excel in this important revenue channel?
Consider that 97 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of our national borders. An entrepreneurial spirit won’t let those kind of prospective customer numbers go unfulfilled.
Entrepreneurs find a way. It is almost the definition of an entrepreneur. This is one asset we have in abundance in our community, entrepreneurs who launch great ideas.
We also have the incubators to help them take ideas to production. The Chamber’s International Development Office will help find the resources to take product to international customers. It can be done, and it can be done here.
Patrick Going from Great Grips is an example of using ingenuity, the resources already available in our community, and a small amount of technology to find customers globally.
Patrick worked assisting seniors and those with disabilities for many years. One day, he visited the house of an elderly woman with severe arthritis. He noticed she had placed rubber bands around her door knob to help her grip and turn the knob to open the door.
He saw a need to create a better grip that would allow her to open the door more easily. He took his idea and a general description to Mind Studios at UCCS, one of the incubators in our community. He discovered that other countries besides the U.S. use the same kind of door knobs; in fact most countries colonized by the British usually have round door knobs.
Mind Studio helped him engineer a grip that fit this common style of knob. After establishing his product, he created a website, easily accessible for international customers and a secure distribution system.
By expanding globally, he extended his customer base exponentially.
I met Patrick at a meeting of The Chamber’s International Development Office held in partnership with the Colorado Association of Manufacturing and Technology (CAMT), the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Patrick needed an export distribution code for his product. We were able to help him with what to us was a simple issue, but which solved problems for his business with Customs officials around the world.
We also were also able to introduce him to the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to help him find government contracting opportunities for his product.
In partnership with many organizations, the Chamber’s International Development Office can help businesses explore the possibility of exporting , as well as businesses that are exporting into only in one market and wish to expand, and those businesses who have already been exporting for several years but have hit any variety of road blocks.
Like the rest of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the International Development Office serves to help businesses explore their possibilities.
We have a great opportunity to better protect our region from recession — and find small businesses more customers who want and need their product.
It is time to take this region global, and add another A+ to our growing list of successes. Don’t let the world pass you by!
Angela Monforte Joslyn is the director of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce International Development Office.