Mary Waters says the state is ready to help Georgia firms go global with a variety of new resources, funding chances and services.

Editor’s note: This commentary was written by Mary Waters, Deputy Commissioner for International Trade at the Georgia Department of Economic Development and first appeared on the department’s blog here. It is re-published with permission. 

Mary Waters

2020 posed unique challenges for business worldwide, particularly small businesses across Georgia. This is certainly true of Georgia exporters, who had to navigate unprecedented disruption in key markets around the world. Georgia businesses are resilient, and will continually innovate in response to these challenges.

From distilleries shifting production to hand sanitizer, to manufacturers creating new lines for PPE production, Georgia businesses looked for ways to grow out of the pandemic.

Small businesses are accustomed to being nimble and adaptable, finding solutions to challenges that may emerge overnight. I am proud of the thousands of companies that shifted their global engagement strategies on short notice, to develop new international strategies that would carry their businesses forward.

One important lesson from 2020 is that export development and outreach to international customers cannot stop. Companies must continue to seek out new global opportunities, even if the way they engage with potential partners has changed significantly. Continued international engagement is critical to our state’s ongoing economic recovery. I strongly encourage companies across the state to lean in to international markets as we look ahead to the opportunities in 2021, and to leverage GDEcD’s deep export resources to help them succeed.

While the pandemic changed how we deliver export services to businesses statewide, I am proud that GDEcD’s International Trade team was able to adapt to the needs of business in real time – providing timely information on market changes and opportunities with key trading partners, connecting our companies to Georgia’s International Representatives (via Zoom) to keep export strategy development and new business opportunities flowing.

Here are a few highlights of how our team continued to offer best-in-class support to Georgia exporters in 2020:

New Digital Tools

We launched an online matchmaking tool, the Export Georgia, USA Directory, connecting Georgia exporters with international buyers from around the world. This free marketing tool allows companies to market their products and services to an international audience, with the GDEcD Trade team helping to facilitate connections to qualified buyers in leading markets.

New Grant Funding

We pursued new funding sources to help exporters do more in global markets. In September, we were awarded a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration for small business exporters. The launch of Go Global Georgia will make reimbursement grants available to these critical small businesses as they pursue new international opportunities in the new year.

Recognizing Export Achievement

In December, we recognized 31 businesses for entering new international markets through our annual GLOBE Awards, and named four outstanding Exporters of the Year. Our GLOBE winners collectively entered 75 new international markets last year, and the vast majority were small businesses. Eighty-four percent of the winning companies employ fewer than 100 people, with 52% of employing fewer than 20 people. The dedication of these companies cannot be understated, and we are proud to highlight their ongoing international success.

Award Winning Export Services

And, in case you missed it, our Trade Team was recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce with its fourth E-Star Award – the highest recognition in the country for excellence in export services. Georgia’s trade team is the only team in country to be recognized four times with this honor. Georgia has the most effective trade team in the country, and I strongly encourage you to work with us to take your exports to the next level.

Our Trade team accomplished a lot in 2020, and we never took our eye off the ball of helping companies seize new global opportunities. I am optimistic that Georgia’s economy will enjoy a full and sustained recovery in the months to come. And I believe that a continued focus on international sales opportunities will be a major factor in building Georgia’s economic resilience. Our economic fundamentals are strong, and our businesses have proven to be resilient. Looking ahead, international opportunities offer an important path to sustained growth for our businesses statewide.

Our team stands ready to assist companies that want to expand their exports. Join us for one of our upcoming webinars to learn more about the free services we offer, sign up for our newsletter, and engage with our team to assist you with taking take your company to the next level. GDEcD’s resources and partners across the state and around the world are well-leveraged to help companies in 2021. I encourage you to reach out to our team to start the conversation about taking your business global.

Mary Waters is Deputy Commissioner for International Trade at the Georgia Department of Economic Development