State seeks global partnerships abroad – and at home

Posted on Mar 9, 2015 :: Global
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

If your company has thought about the possibility of exporting, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation wants to help you turn that thought into reality.

WEDC is offering global trade missions to help connect Wisconsin companies with partners overseas as a part of its effort to continue to grow exports and investment in Wisconsin. In May, the agency is visiting Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa and the trip has appealed to some Milwaukee-area water technology companies, says Katy Sinnott, WEDC’s vice president of international business development.

“There’s some extraordinary opportunities there, because these two countries represent some of the strongest economies in Africa,” Sinnott says. “They have an extraordinarily strong growing middle class, which implies needs for lots of things. There is a need for infrastructure, there is a need for consumer goods.”

Historically, Wisconsin companies haven’t exported much to this region. “I think it’s a great opportunity to get in on the ground when it’s just starting to really explode,” Sinnott says.

In April, WEDC visits Western Europe — France, Spain and Germany — a trip that begins with the Hannover Messe Trade Show in Germany, one of the largest manufacturing trade fairs in the world. Gov. Scott Walker plans to attend this trade venture, and New North area companies are encouraged to participate.

“It really isn’t limited to one kind of manufacturer,” Sinnott says. “We would encourage all manufacturers to go — everything from mining equipment to small components is being presented there at the fair.”

In 2014, Wisconsin businesses reached an all-time high record for exporting, sending $23.43 billion in goods worldwide, says the WEDC. That’s an increase of 1.4 percent over 2013. During the past four years, the state’s total exports have increased by 18.3 percent.

WEDC is hoping to attract the attention of more New North-area manufacturers and get them started in exporting. Considering that 95 percent of the growing middle class is found beyond America’s borders, “you’re missing a huge customer base” by not exporting, Sinnott says. “If you look at China, they’re going to have a huge number of billion-dollar companies in the next 10 years. That will create many more middle-class people and their people will demand products.”

A trade mission to South America planned for last fall in conjunction with Global New North, an initiative of the nonprofit New North Inc., attracted interest from just one northeastern Wisconsin company that ended up visiting Columbia in March through WEDC’s International Market Access Grant, Sinnott says.

“One of the things I hear from companies is they say, ‘Well, the economy has come up and we’re doing really well,’” Sinnott says. “Companies shouldn’t wait until a downturn to export. The time to start addressing the export market is when your company is doing well.”

Global New North is trying again to interest 10 companies in participating in a different trade mission, this time to either Canada or Mexico, and not until Spring 2016, says Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North, Inc.

“What we learned is that we were way, way, way too short in our timeline to be able to recruit companies to participate (in the South America venture),” Murphy says. “So out of that came an appreciation for the need to be way ahead of the decision-making timeline.” Secondly, they learned that new-to-exporting countries were reluctant to start with South America.

Global New North also is seeking a grant from the Economic Development Administration to investigate foreign direct investment in the region, Murphy says.

“If we had a pretty good feel for why foreign companies have made investments in the New North over time, if we understood what the drivers were for those decisions and if there were some common elements across multiple industries, we might be able to develop a strong selling proposition that anticipates those things,” Murphy says.

While on the Western European trade mission, WEDC is also working to attract direct foreign investment from Western Europe. “When we look at the supply chain in Wisconsin, we’re looking for gaps and we would seek companies who could support that,” Sinnott says.

While WEDC sometimes hears concern about added competition, the flip side is that building a stronger industry promotes university research, education and attracts more companies related to that industry. “So I think that’s a really strong argument for foreign direct investment,” Sinnott says.

Wisconsin’s Top Five Export Destinations

Value of exports:  $7.94 billion
% change from 2013:  +5.5%
Value of exports:  $2.84 billion
% change from 2013:  +12.7%
Value of exports:  $1.56 billion
% change from 2013:  -5.7%
Value of exports :  $901.9 million
% change from 2013:  -3.4%
United Kingdom :

Value of exports :  $848.3 million
% change from 2013:  +24.9%

There’s still time
To register for the April Western European Trade Mission, visit Europe2015 and the May East Africa trip at While the registration deadlines have passed, WEDC will try to accommodate any New North manufacturer interested in participating.

Global export experts
To find assistance with developing your export business, visit:

To learn more about the Global New North trade venture in Spring 2016, contact Jerry Murphy at[email protected].