Even as Georgia posts record exports, many smaller companies looking to sell products overseas aren’t aware of the wealth of trade resources in their own backyard.

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce aimed to help remedy that problem with a March 16 export seminar featuring the state’s top trade proponent and officials from its main logistical gateways, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Georgia Ports Authority.

Smaller companies have gotten more involved in trade in recent years, whether by strategy or necessity, said Kathe Falls, international trade director for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“It’s not just a large company issue anymore, and that’s largely thanks to the Internet,” she told about 40 attendees.

The main reason companies export is to boost profits, Ms. Falls said, but selling globally has other long-term benefits. It helps diversify sales to decrease risk and allows firms to keep better tabs on their overseas competitors.

It can also breathe new life into certain products, she said, as technologies that have grown obsolete in the U.S. are still viable in many parts of the developing world.

She gave the example of Forklift USA, a Conyers firm with eight workers that sells refurbished forklifts. The company started considering exporting after receiving an online inquiry from a prospective buyer in India.

The customs approvals came too late for the India deal, but the company soon made its first overseas sale in Vietnam. Now its machines are hoisting pallets in warehouses in countries like Honduras and the Philippines.

Ms. Falls stressed that exporting isn’t a panacea for a dying company but that it can help healthy companies grow stronger. That’s good for the state, because research shows that companies that sell overseas create better-paying jobs at home, and more of them, she said.

Through its 10 overseas offices, the state helps companies conduct market research and connect with potential suppliers through introductions and trade missions, Ms. Falls said.

The Georgia Ports Authority can also help companies gain better access to global markets, said Robert Morris, the ports’ senior director of external affairs.

The authority is the only one in the U.S. that offers a dedicated customer relations center that provides information on how to ship a container and connects companies with freight forwarders and logistics firms, Mr. Morris said.

He used chicken feet to highlight how exports can benefit companies. Basically worthless in the U.S., they fetch a good price in China, where they are considered a delicacy. This unconventional export has bolstered the poultry processing industry, a major employer in Georgia.

The impact from such sales sends ripples statewide, Mr. Morris said. In 2010, more than 3,500 jobs in metro Atlanta were dependent on cargo movement at the Port of Savannah. About $1.1 billion in cargo from Gwinnett County came through the ports.

Still, many companies throughout the state are unaware of the services offered in Savannah, home to the nation’s fourth-largest and fastest growing port.

“It would amaze you how many Georgia-based companies are using our competitors and they don’t even know it,” Mr. Morris said.

Warren Jones, aviation development manager for the Atlanta airport, spoke less about tangible trade resources and focused more on air cargo’s economic impact on the region.

Korean automaker Kia Motors picked Georgia over Mississippi for a more than $1 billion plant in part because of the ability to import parts through the Atlanta airport. BMW, which has a plant in South Carolina, flies newly built cars from Atlanta to Germany for testing.

“We see brand new BMWs on the ramp, and I have to cry because I know in about a week or two they’re going to be totally trashed” after rigorous testing, Mr. Jones said.

In 2009, a rocky year, the airport handled $7 billion worth of cargo despite a 14 percent decline, Mr. Jones said.

Recovery came in 2010, as the airport’s 17 percent cargo growth outpaced the industry average. According to the latest studies, 18,800 jobs are directly supported by Hartsfield’s cargo operations, Mr. Jones said.

Hartsfield already receives flights from nine of the world’s top 10 cargo carriers, but it’s aggressively pursuing even more growth, spurred in part by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed‘s desire to make Atlanta the logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, Mr. Reed was present to welcome new flights from two major carriers, Korea’s Asiana Airlines and Italy‘s Cargoitalia. The mayor traveled to Amsterdam, Netherlands, in November for the air cargo industry’s main international conference, which will come to Atlanta for its 50th anniversary next year.

“We’re very lucky to have his leadership there,” Mr. Jones said, praising the mayor’s efforts to carve out time to meet with leaders from important carriers.

In Amsterdam, the mayor met with Dubai‘s Emirates Airlines, the lone carrier out of the world’s cargo top 10 that doesn’t stop at Hartsfield.

“They are a very aggressive airline. They’re not here yet because of one thing: they don’t have the airplanes,” he said, noting that the company is awaiting delivery of a new Boeing 747 freighter.

The seminar was run by the chamber’s Manufacturing and Logistics Council. Judging by a show of hands, the event largely preached to the choir, as most attendees were already engaged in global trade.

That’s all the more reason to reach out to even more manufacturers in the county, said Brittany Holtzclaw, the chamber’s business development manager for manufacturing and logistics.

“We’re here for them,” Ms. Holtzclaw said.

The event was sponsored by CEVA Logistics, a Netherlands-based logistics firm with operations in 170 countries. CEVA has offices and freight processing facilities near the airport.

For more information on the Gwinnett Chamber’s Manufacturing and Logistics Council, click here.

For more on Georgia’s international offices and trade resources, click here.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...