Every harbor has at least one harbor pilot — that local expert whose knowledge of the local waterways is essential to getting ships in and out without incident.
When it comes to exporting, companies in Northeast Wisconsin now have their own version of a harbor pilot, so to speak, a local expert who can help them sort out the intricacies of sending products abroad without running afoul of the differing customs, laws and challenges that can seem overwhelming to many manufacturers.
In fact, the region now has two such experts available for guidance.
“They have different missions, but in the end, both are trying to get information and expertise to our local companies who are thinking about, or starting to work with, markets overseas,” says Dave Thiel, president of the Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership.
NEWREP teamed with several regional chambers of commerce, economic development groups and Wisconsin Public Service to fund an international trade consultant to help the region’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers expand into overseas markets.
“Many times, they get pulled into foreign markets by a great opportunity but aren’t quite as prepared had it been more deliberate,” Thiel says. “Our largest companies have staff with expertise, but many of the small companies do not. We want them to have the expertise to get involved.”
To fill the new position, NEWREP hired Greg Miller, who has worked more than 20 years in international business and will be a driving force behind re-establishing an international trade conference for the region.
Meanwhile, the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh recently hired Shirley Malski as an international trade consultant to bolster its programs. She’s worked in exports with the automobile industry, as well as Oshkosh Corp and Bemis Co.
“Exporting can be scary if you don’t know all the ins and outs of the market you are targeting,” Malski says. “But there are a lot of resources out there, and we will help you make those connections.”
The additional resources provided by Malski and Miller are intended to help companies in Northeast Wisconsin both establish and expand markets overseas.
International trade already plays a significant role in the regional economy, and the region plays a significant role in the state’s overall success as an exporter.
Wisconsin companies exported slightly more than $21 billion in goods and services around the world in 2016, according to federal trade data for that year, the latest year of complete data available. That was down from $22.4 billion in 2015 and 2014’s record high of $23.4 billion.
At the same time, overall exports in the five metropolitan statistical areas that comprise the New North region grew to $4.6 billion in 2016, an increase of 4.6 percent from $4.4 billion in 2015 and up 7.6 percent from the $4.3 billion the region exported in 2014.
Export growth in the New North region benefited greatly in 2016 from the strength of its machine and transportation manufacturing sectors. In the Oshkosh-Neenah MSA, for example, companies classified as transportation equipment manufacturing producers saw exports in that segment grow nearly $50million, or 20.7 percent, in 2016.
Armed with proper information and expertise, Miller sees plenty of opportunities for companies in the region to build on that performance.
“We are targeting those companies in particular that are new to exporting,” he says. “We want them to grow. If you make a good product, we want to help those companies find new markets to continue to grow.”
As individual companies succeed as exporters, it will strengthen the regional economy as a whole, he says.
Other reasons to build on the region’s success in global trade include:
• More than 95 percent of the world’s customers are located outside the United States.
• Exporters realize higher employment growth than non-exporters.
• Exporters generally have more success riding out fluctuations in the national economy.
• Companies that export tend to pay wages that are 13 to 18 percent higher than non-exporting companies.
But realizing the benefits can be a daunting task at first, says Malski. The program at the SBDC will provide companies with a 30-minute assessment of their export readiness, help develop an overall vision and identify financial resources to overcome some of the financial hurdles associated with exporting.
“For a new entry, there is a lot of due diligence to learn the regulatory and compliance issues,” Malski says. “It can be scary what you don’t know, but there are grants and other resources that can help.” Φ