David Thiel, executive director of Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation and co-chairman of the Global New North Stakeholder Committee, says regional companies have prime opportunities to grow through exporting. He sat down with Insight Associate Editor Nikki Kallio to talk about Global New North and an upcoming trade mission to South America.
Global New North formed as the implementation tool to an effort that was started by the East Central Regional Planning Commission.
During the recession, they contacted a number of the counties about some money that was available from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The EDA was looking to help communities that had suffered significant losses of employment during the recession. About eight counties qualified, and Waupaca County was one of them.
I had been working with NEWREP (Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership) and we had done a trade mission to Mexico in 2009 with six companies out of Northeast Wisconsin, and it was quite successful. I believe somewhere around $1 million in sales resulted from the effort of those companies going there. I was looking for ways to get our companies involved with international business. We were able to talk the EDA into expanding to the entire New North region.
New North Executive Director Jerry Murphy and I had discussions in the past about putting together some sort of strategy for the entire region for exporting and international business. The Bay Lake Regional Planning Commission became the co-applicant, and between those two regional planning commissions, they cover the entire 18-county New North area. We were awarded the grant funding, we hired a consultant and did a study.
We’re partnering with WEDC on this trade mission. One of the countries that was identified in the strategic report as a very good fit for our companies was Columbia. Chile and Peru also were chosen because of the similarities in their economies. We’re hoping to take up to 10 businesses. Those that have unique products that can be used anywhere in the world are certainly good candidates for any trade venture.
WEDC is putting together a training program for economic development people like myself. Specifically, we’ll be targeting companies that do some exporting already to go on the trade venture with us. This really has never been an area that we’ve concentrated on. Most growth has come to our companies through their domestic markets, and it’s a little more challenging to expand internationally. The companies need to feel that they’re more comfortable doing this, and the economic development people need to feel comfortable talking about this.
The simple statistic is 4.5 percent of the world population is in the United States, and the rest of the world is growing, and their economies are growing. The large economies in China, Brazil and India are growing rapidly. For us who make products, that marketplace with 95.5 percent of the people outside of the U.S. is pretty enticing. And it isn’t just necessarily what we make, it is also our technical expertise. There are good, solid engineering firms that understand water, that understand the infrastructure challenges that developing economies are facing, and they have potential there, too.
When we had our first training sessions, there were a lot of questions from the economic development people. They said, ‘This just isn’t my world,’ and I said, ‘It’s not mine either – it never was mine.’ But at some point, we just need to jump off a cliff and go forward, because that’s a huge potential for us for the future.
It’s a little bit scary to start dealing with other cultures, other languages, other rules and regulations. But the bottom line is there are a lot of people right here in Wisconsin and at the federal level that can help them negotiate that stuff. Businesses already have relationships with their economic development people, so that’s a logical place for that to start.