While imports flood the U.S. with the January 2017 numbers the highest in years, a slight shift downward in the value of the dollar and an upward tick in the growth of overseas markets could boost exports and bring the trade deficit more into balance.
But exports aren’t totally dependent on macroeconomics. Companies that seize new opportunities in overseas markets and develop innovative products also play an important role in improving export numbers.
Mary Ellen McClanahan, director for entrepreneurial and small business initiatives in the global commerce division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development told Global Atlanta, “You don’t need a Class A office tower to export, you can do it from your garage that has only a lightbulb.”
Perhaps most surprising, the vast majority of Georgia’s 14,500 exporters, 89 percent to be precise, or 12,869, are small- to medium-sized companies with 500 or less employees.
Mary Waters, deputy commissioner of international trade at the department, said that of the 761 companies her department worked with closely on exports last year 84 percent have fewer than 100 employees and 60 percent have fewer than 20 employees.
“We call those micro enterprises,” she added. “They tend to be entrepreneurial and don’t have the back offices larger companies do, but we can help them.”
Among its services to Georgia exporters, the international trade division provides free market intelligence, key in-country contacts and shares cost-effective international sales opportunities.
With the support of the state’s international representatives, the international trade division, provides a variety of programs and services to qualified Georgia exporters including customized export assistance.
Ms. Waters added that if the in-house support doesn’t exist within the department, it has many resources statewide including professional services such as banks with global currency expertise or the professional resources of the state’s universities.
The division also leverages the state’s international representatives located in 11 strategic markets, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Europe, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the U.K. and Ireland.
The representatives visit Atlanta annually as a team and are scheduled to be here next week, March 13-14. Their availability for one-on-one meetings are filled “to capacity,” Ms. Waters said, but the department is hosting a “Go Global” networking reception from 5:30-8:00 p.m. at the Atlanta History Center, which is open to registrants. To register, click here.
Georgia ranks as the 11th exporting state in the U.S. and led the nation in the export of chemical woodpulp, poultry, kraft paper and paperboard, carpets, kaolin and chemical products such as insecticides.
Its top exporting industries are aircraft/spacecraft, non-electric machinery, non-railway vehicles, electrical machinery and paper/paperboard, making up 56 percent of Georgia’s total exports.
Both Ms. McClanahan and Ms. Waters added that the remaining 44 percent has some surprises including blueberries and peanuts.
“There’s no one size fits all,” formula, Ms. Waters stressed. For instance, blueberries, which the state produces more than 41 million pounds annually on 16 thousand acres, are welcome abroad. Exporting blueberries, however, does have its challenges because they have to be fresh when they arrive and to enter China they have to be frozen.
China imports Georgia peanuts when due to climatic conditions production there suffers. That’s always good news to the department when the state’s agricultural products are in demand, Ms. Waters said, adding what pleased her especially with the recent figures is that the Chinese suppliers thought of Georgia when they were looking for peanuts.
“They knew about us,” she said. “We were ready for these opportunities. If we didn’t have the linkages in place, they would not have been available.” The state has been developing ties with China for many years now and has offices in Shanghai and Qingdao.
Despite their view that “small business is so incredibly important to the fabric of Georgia’s economy,” according to Ms. Waters, small businesses rarely get the attention that the multinationals do.
To raise awareness, their promotional efforts extend to state legislators both in their hometowns and under the Gold Dome, and they conduct visits out in the field where they visit chambers of commerce, extension offices and universities.
The variety of companies that develop export niches taxes the imagination. For instance, Gainesville-based Mincey Marble, which announced in January that it plans to consolidate its cast marble fixture manufacturing operations into a new 450,000 square-foot facility, exports its products to Canada.
In recent years, the company has imported glass parts for its shower enclosures from China, but its exports of cast marble bath products for hospitality, multi-family, military and healthcare facilities are primarily limited to Canada because of the transportation costs involved.
In sharp contrast to Mincey Marble, which has 300 employees, La Grange-based Atlas Turf International Ltd. has only four full-time employees but exports its specialty turf grasses for golf courses and other sport venues around the world. The company’s founding couple John and Catherine Holmes developed a taste for international markets when they first sold turf surfaces for sporting venues in Mexico and the Philippines. Their specialty turf surfaces now can be found literally around the world.
Perhaps even more astounding is the success of Dream Beard, the beard-care products company developed by Ryan Lane on his father-in-law’s dining room table in Dallas, Ga., which now has sales in more than 80 countries.
To register for the GoGlobal reception, click here.