As Georgia Department of Economic Development seeks to help companies boost exports, one problem tends to emerge: finding those that either have never exported before or should be sending their goods to more countries.
The department sought to solve that problem at this year’s convention of representatives from its overseas trade offices, doling out award certificates and gubernatorial handshakes to those companies that expanded sales into new markets during 2013.
The strategy seemed to work. The G.L.O.B.E. awards – an acronym for Georgia Launching Opportunities by Exporting – were given to more than 50 companies, each of which were called out by name at the state’s Go Global Reception at the InterContinental Buckhead hotel Feb. 17.
The companies expanded into a combined 103 countries, averaging five new countries per company.
Kathe Falls, Georgia’s international trade director, said it was a good way to honor exporting firms, which tend to hire more people and create more jobs than firms that haven’t diversified into international sales.
“International trade has an impact on nearly every company in Georgia – creating jobs and investment opportunities across the state,” said Ms. Falls, who was most proud that the state moved up to the No. 8 exporting state in the country.
Exports support 300,000 jobs Georgia, which is home to some 14,500 exporting firms, according to the department. That’s why the state has been on an unrelenting export push in the past few years, aided by U.S. government funds and spurred on in part by President Obama’s National Export Initiative, launched in 2009.
Georgia posted record export numbers in 2013, up 4.2 percent to $37.6 billion. Imports nearly doubled exports at $75.1 billion in goods, also an annual record.
Part of that success can be traced to the state’s representatives posted in 11 countries, which provide a wide range of services to Georgia-based companies, free of charge.
Brian Wilson, the state’s long-time representative in Santiago, Chile, relayed an alphabet soup of services: BPI (business partner identification), QMA (quick market assessment to survey the competition and potential market for the product) and SIR (specific information requests).
Mr. Wilson also leads Georgia companies to trade shows and has seen a lot of momentum over the last few years at ExpoMin, a mining show in Santiago. Chile is one of the world’s major producers of copper.
Gary Majestic, general manager of Commercial Fluid Power, a metal tubing company with 12 employees at its Rome, Ga., offices, said export sales have increased by 50 percent since he first attended ExpoMin in Chile.
Mr. Wilson and his team have been true partners for his business, Mr. Majestic said, responding quickly to inquiries.
“We don’t sit around for a week or two waiting to hear back,” he said, noting that he even counts them as friends. “They’re good folks to do business with.”
While Mr. Wilson has been serving Georgia for awhile, some newer faces were introduced at the event officially for the first time.
Paul Swenson, a long-time trade consultant in China that has worked with other states including Mississippi and Oregon, was unveiled as the state’s new representative handling trade-related inquiries at his office in Shanghai. Seth Jacobs, the state’s representative in Qingdao, specializes in recruiting Chinese investment.
But Georgia is also turning more toward Latin America, becoming the first state to open a trade office in Colombia, a promising market of more than 40 million people in South America.
Based in Bogota, Juan Carlos Lopez is serving as the managing director for the Georgia offices in Colombia and Mexico City, though another new face, Walter Heredia, is the state’s man handling trade on the ground in Mexico.
Mr. Lopez said the opportunities are broad for Georgia companies in Colombia, which he said is set to spend significant proportions of its national budget on infrastructure, telecommunication and security and defense, an industry segment in which Georgia is strong.
“For any Georgia company in any of the export industries, there will be opportunities,” Mr. Lopez told Global Atlanta at the reception.
Mr. Heredia said Mexico is entering a period of newfound optimism with the passage of landmark reforms in education, telecommunications and energy under the administration of Enrique Pena Nieto.
The country is also attracting a lot of foreign investment in fields like aerospace and automotive manufacturing, raising the specter of more competition in these all-important sectors for Georgia’s production base. Mr. Heredia believes Mexico’s growth, however, will benefit Georgia suppliers.
“I think competing is not the right way of seeing it. I think working together is the right way of seeing it. Why? Because as some industries grow, you grow also your capabilities, and it’s open for innovation,” he said.
He also said the growth is helping temper drug-related violence in Mexico. Mr. Heredia was born in Juarez, a city close to the U.S. border that has absorbed much of the bloodshed.
Gail Morris, Georgia’s representative in Canada, said trade relations with the U.S.’s northern neighbor and Georgia’s top trading partner are going well in the 20th year since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta. So well, she said, that sometimes Canada is taken for granted.
It’s a great market for first-time exporters because of similarities in business culture and regulation, and now the country is beginning to get a taste for new kinds of American consumer goods.
“We used to consider ourselves like a me-too country – what’s good for the U.S. is good for Canada – now all of a sudden Canada is saying we want the best of what you have to offer,” she said.
She cited gourmet fondant maker Fondarific, which has seen sales grow in Canada.
Still, the state has much room to grow in finding and assisting companies. It worked on 450 projects in 2013 that resulted in a combined total of $35.9 million in export sales, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the value of the state’s exports. The representatives assisted on 86 percent of those products.
The state’s offices cover Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Europe (from Munich, Germany), Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the United Kingdom and Ireland.