SPRING HILL — A recently launched state exporting program provides small- and medium-sized businesses with guidance for tapping into international markets.
“A Guide to Exporting” seminar was held Tuesday at the Northfield Conference Center, 5000 Northfield Lane. The Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance sponsored the event that centered on the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s TNTrade program.
The ECD enacted the venture in February 2011. TNTrade offers smaller business owners exporting consultation services at no charge.
Less than 2 percent of Tennessee businesses are exporters and about 20 percent of the state’s manufacturing jobs rely on exporting, according to ECD.
MCCEA President Wil Evans said promoting and developing existing local businesses are big components of his organization’s work.
“One of the continuing pieces of feedback that we have gotten over the last several years is access to international markets,” Evans said. “When the state introduced us to this program, it just seemed natural to introduce it to our existing businesses and our membership.”
ECD Assistant Commissioner for Policy and International Affairs Josh Helton said during the last 12 years, state exports have grown from $10 billion to about $34 billion.
We are here to help you get started. Whether you need an extra little help — or you haven’t (exported) but you are curious and you want to know whether your product has an opportunity in the international market.Li Weaver - ECD China Export Specialist
The dollar is relatively weak compared to other currencies, creating a favorable exchange rate, Helton said. The price of oil has increased from $30-$40 per barrel to more than $100, and worker wage rates are beginning to equalize on an international scale, he said. Manufacturing products abroad and shipping them into the U.S. is also becoming more expensive, Helton said.
All of these factors are leading to a more favorable exporting market for U.S. and Tennessee businesses, he said.
“Tennesseans are exporting, and they are in international markets,” Helton said. “A good portion of that is very large companies, but there are also small- and medium-sized business that are exporting as well.”
Most small- and medium-sized business are concerned about meeting daily needs and not about expanding into international markets, Helton said. The thought of expanding abroad can cause apprehension for business owners, he added.
“It’s a lot like a free consulting service that the state provides,” Helton said. “We can get them to that point so that it’s no more intimidating to sell across international lines than it is state lines.”
TNTrade Director Hayley Hovious said about 75 percent of companies in the program have fewer than 100 employees.
“I think that most people don’t know where to start,” Hovious said. “The services are designed really to get them past that sate of utter intimidation.”
The state has global offices in the United Kingdom, the European Union, Mexico and China. Each of those areas has an export specialist to facilitate entry into those markets.
ECD U.K. and EU Export Specialist Jens Frederiksen said the program connects businesses with established exporting networks. For his particular areas, the EU and U.K. present a familiar businesses market compared to the U.S., he said.
ECD Latin and South America Export Specialist Cristina Allen noted Mexico’s growing automotive sector, which is comparable to Tennessee’s growth in that arena.
Canada is the No. 1 country for Tennessee exports, and Mexico is No. 2, Allen said. The North American Free Trade Agreement trade agreement makes for easier to access Mexico’s market, she added.
ECD China Export Specialist Li Weaver said China is estimated to have the world’s largest economy in the next five to 10 years, surpassing the U.S. and EU combined.
China has about 200 million people in its middle class, which creates a growing consumer market, Weaver said.
“We are here to help you get started,” she said. “Whether you need an extra little help — or you haven’t (exported) but you are curious and you want to know whether your product has an opportunity in the international market.”
For more information about the program, visit www.tn.gov/ecd/tntrade/.
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