UP FRONT: Global goes on — with gusto

Posted on Oct 1, 2014 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

“We’re good at making things” is a refrain commonly heard around the New North.

The slogan’s origins most likely derive from the region’s tie to the paper industry and the various manufacturing firms that supported it with custom machines and precision parts. Of course, we’ve fed the demand for dairy and agriculture products for even longer.

The rest of the world has decided we are pretty good at making those things as well, according to the latest data released by the International Trade Administration.

Export chartExports from Wisconsin have nearly doubled in the past eight years, topping $23 billion in 2013, according to the data. The New North region grew exports to more than $4.4 billion in 2013 from $2.3 billion in 2005.

“We are doing better when it comes to exports, and it’s a much different story than even 10 to 12 years ago,” says William Wresch, associate dean of the College of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.

Metropolitan statistical areas in the New North region — Appleton, Oshkosh-Neenah, Green Bay, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac — account for nearly 20 percent of the state’s exports. Not surprising, since two of the leading categories are machinery and food products.

Other highlights from the ITA data show exports from Wisconsin:
» Supported more than 126,147 jobs nationally
» Involved 8,581 state companies, more than 87 percent of which are considered small- to medium-sized firms employing 500 or fewer employees

Regional economic development leaders say companies here would do better if they could overcome the information gap about what it takes to begin exporting.

Most of the region’s technical colleges have peer groups that can provide advice and technical know-how. Resources are also available from groups such as ExporTech and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Another way to grow exports is to work with small- and medium-size businesses already exporting to one or two markets and see if they can grow into a third or fourth, says Damian Felton, director for the U.S. Commercial Service office in Wisconsin, the U.S. Department of Commerce agency promoting worldwide exports.

“A lot of them got into it reactively and they are not thinking about where else they can take their product,” he says. “If we can get them to be more strategic, get them into that third and fourth market, then we can really move the needle.”

ON THE WEB

For more information on exports and exporting:
» New North Global Initiative – www.thenewnorth.com/strategic-initiatives/global-new-north/
» US Commercial Service – http://export.gov/wisconsin
» Northeast Wisconsin Global Networking Groups – www.thenewnorth.com/strategic-initiatives/global-new-north/northeast-wisconsin-global-networking-groups