Program helps companies expand export strategies

ExporTech aids organizations with building strategies for tapping into global markets.
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From left are coaches, volunteers and participants from a 2019 ExporTech cohort: Don Carbone, former president of Managed Programs; Greg Kangas, Great Lakes Sound and Vibration (GLSV); Steve Tarnowski, GLSV; David Bekkala, REL Inc.; Steve Mattson, GLSV; Mitch Fedie, Pettibone; Clint Berry, Race Ramps; Joe Esbrook, Hiawatha Log Homes; Jennifer Moll, U.S. Commercial Service; Eve Lerman, U.S. Commercial Service; Rich Digue, RnD Engineering; Bob Welker, Argonics; Chris Bosio, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC); and Natalie Chmiko, MEDC. Courtesy MEDC

Michigan’s manufacturing and technology executives have a little time left to apply for a virtual, 13-week program to help accelerate their export strategies in 2022.

An intensive export growth program designed to jumpstart global sales strategies, ExporTech was launched nationally in 2007 via a partnership between two U.S. Department of Commerce bureaus: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Commercial Service (USCS), which is part of the International Trade Administration.

ExporTech Michigan, launched in 2010, is organized by the U.S. Commercial Service-Michigan and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), with support from the East and West Michigan District Export Councils, EXIM Bank, the Small Business Administration, the Michigan Small Business Development Center and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Over 1,200 companies have successfully completed the ExporTech program nationwide. Since ExporTech launched in Michigan, the USCS and MEDC have offered 12 programs serving 61 companies throughout the state.

Through ExporTech, business school students at Michigan universities gain real-life experience helping companies formulate their export strategies, and a pipeline of graduates with international business research experience is made available to the companies, as well. University partners include Michigan State University, Lawrence Technological University, Northern Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University and Grand Valley State University.

Grand Valley is serving as the university partner for the winter 2022 cohort, and the U.S. Commercial Service-Grand Rapids office, along with the MEDC, are the co-organizers.

The program — which went virtual in 2021 and will continue online in 2022 — will consist of six morning workshops and individualized coaching sessions from Jan. 20 through April 14, culminating in a presentation of each company’s strategic export plan during the final session. Each company will be assigned a pair of coaches to navigate the strategic export sales process, and companies will be matched with a team of GVSU business students to assist with their international market research.

The program covers topics such as legal aspects of export compliance and working with international distributors, logistics concerns, tariffs and freight costs, and navigating free trade agreements.

Kendra Kuo. Courtesy U.S. Commercial Service-Grand Rapids

Kendra Kuo, director of the U.S. Commercial Service-Grand Rapids office, said the program exists for a simple reason.

“Oftentimes, companies in Michigan or anywhere else are pretty good at doing domestic business, and then they’re approached by international buyers or distributors to help represent them overseas. Sometimes, those sales end up working out well, but other times, they’re missing out on bigger opportunities if they’re not strategic,” she said. “We’re trying to help them be more strategic as they approach international sales, identify which countries hold the most promise for them and go after those markets first.”

On Dec. 17, Robin Daniels, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ regional representative, presented certificates of special senatorial recognition to the eight graduating executives from the fall 2021 cohort, who celebrated the completion of their program after having presented their strategic export growth plans to a panel of experts from the Michigan District Export Councils for feedback.

“Feedback and expertise from the review panel was invaluable, as it helped us to anticipate and address topics in advance of entering new markets,” said Michael Edison, CEO of Ann Arbor-based Adaptive Energy.

“Participating in ExporTech has dramatically accelerated our global market entry — largely because we’ve gotten an inside perspective from companies that have been in our shoes. We’re now armed with a highly actionable strategy to enter Canada, India, Israel, Norway and other global markets. The bonus is that we now know the business risks, as well as the specific channels to target.”

The fall 2021 ExporTech Michigan cohort graduates also included AtomTech in Clarkston, Bennett Pump Co. in Norton Shores, ICR Services in Warren, iHemp Manufacturing in Fenton, SenShipping in Romulus, Thunder Technologies in Rochester Hills and United Precision Products Company in Dearborn Heights.

Pedro Ruiz, vice president of international sales at Bennett Pump, said ExporTech is helping the company create jobs through global sales growth.

“This program is helping us establish a path to achieve our goal of being a top-three gas pump supplier in the world,” Ruiz said. “I particularly enjoyed hearing from the different perspectives offered by people in the class on how they approach international sales challenges.”

Graduates of previous ExporTech Michigan programs in 2020 and 2021 included Cadillac Products Automotive Company in Troy, Challenger Communications in Albion, Cherry Central Cooperative in Traverse City, Coherix in Ann Arbor, Dell Marking Systems in Rochester Hills, Duperon in Saginaw, Grand Rapids Christian Schools in Grand Rapids, Lifeline Firehouse in Lansing, Mull-It-Over Products in Grandville, Munro & Associates in Auburn Hills, Nirvana Tea with various locations, Oktober Can Seamers in Grand Rapids, Preferred Packaging Solutions in Taylor, SK International in Farmington Hills and T&T Tools in Holland.

Joelle Williams, International Student Program director at Grand Rapids Christian Schools, said while it might seem unusual for a school system to participate in an export program geared toward businesses, her school is considered an exporter of education, since it has so many international students.

“As a result of participating in this spring 2021 seminar series, a) we heard from experts in a variety of fields about a number of export-relevant topics, and b) we were supported as we applied the information for our unique service,” she said. “I feel that our team has improved our knowledge of various important export-related topics and that our program is better for having this information.

“Specifically, our website is now more user-friendly in the global market, we have a better sense of legal considerations as we export education, and we came away encouraged that we are doing a good job promoting and offering our service.”

Kuo said the application deadline for the winter 2022 cohort is Jan. 13.

The fee is $1,200 per applicant. Grant money is available from the MEDC to qualifying companies to cover up to 75% of the cost.

Michigan manufacturing and technology executives interested in applying can contact Kuo at kendra.kuo@trade.gov or (616) 481-9047. A maximum of eight companies will be selected.

Those who are interested but are not selected for this winter’s cohort are encouraged to apply again in the fall when information on the next sessions becomes available.

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