Last year President Obama challenged the nation’s businesses to double their exports within 5 years. Connecticut has been responding to that call, and as WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports, small business has been a key part of the effort.
Exporting—selling products overseas—is complex and often challenging. It may not seem to be a natural fit for a small business. Not so, says economist Peter Gioia of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
“A lot of small businesses may have export potential. Certainly the smallest don’t, but when you’re talking under a hundred, a lot of firms 50 or more employees might. A lot of times these firms may want to get involved in that, but they don’t have the resources of a company that say have 4 or 5 hundred, 5 thousand employees in order to do it.”
“This is a nitrogen system. We’re taking the air, we’re compressing it, we’re putting it through a purification process where the oxygen and nitrogen molecules get separated….”
Guy Hatch is CEO of OnSite Gas, a Newington-based company that makes gas production units for commercial customers, the oil industry and for military applications. This company has just 50 employees, but it exports its products to more than 60 countries. Onsite has been selling overseas almost since it was first founded in the 1980s, but it’s still breaking into new markets, most recently selling medical oxygen generators to the Israeli military. Hatch says for that sale he had the backing of the US Commerce Department, something that’s vital for a small business.
“It gives you a lot of credibility. We’re a small company—50 employees—to get the attention of people at the level in the Israeli ministry of defense that’s required to supply a piece of equipment for their needs—we couldn’t do that without somebody, the federal government particularly, supporting us or at least identifying us as a credible company that had a product that could meet those needs.”
In Connecticut, that’s the job of Anne Evans, who runs the Commerce Department’s office in the state.
“It’s all about, what does a small company need to get into an export market.”
She and her staff provide help to businesses in identifying overseas partners and markets, completing regulatory paperwork and even in how to ship overseas. Evans says the driver for small businesses to get into exporting is always sales.
“Only 5 percent of the world’s customers are here in the US. Ninety-five percent are overseas. This is where their growth is. They may have saturated their US market and now they need to go further.”
In 2010, exports from Connecticut companies went up by almost 15 percent to more than 16 billion dollars, a record for the state.
“And we are the second most export-dependent state in the country. This is very important to Connecticut’s economy—what we do here is vital. We’re a lot of defense and aerospace, huge amount of aerospace, and we have a lot of manufacturing, and a lot of that goes overseas.”
Of course Connecticut’s big aerospace companies, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky, take the lead in exporting in their sector, but small companies also play a part. United Technologies actually makes its own export network available to help some of its smaller suppliers break into overseas markets. And trade groups such as the Aerospace Components Manufacturers also help smaller companies to aggregate their efforts. Doug Rose runs AeroGear, a gearbox manufacturer in Windsor.
“And there’s a group of companies—it’s up to 60, and we’re actually collectively doing some marketing together, and trying to say—come to Connecticut for your aerospace products. That is better than an individual company trying to market itself.”
Last year the group was able to advertise the work of Connecticut’s small aerospace companies at the world’s largest airshows in Paris and Farnborough. So what makes US products from small companies sell in overseas markets? Bruce Wilson runs Aplicare, a Meriden based company that makes disposable skin cleansing products for use in hospitals and other medical settings.
“In other countries where the health care system is not quite as developed as it is here, our products are in fact new technology.”
Aplicare began exporting in earnest just a few years ago, after receiving increasing numbers of Internet inquiries from overseas. Wilson says for small US companies, competing overseas is not about price.
“Made in the USA really still does set the gold standard. So there are many, many countries, Japan, a lot of the South American countries that look for that ‘manufactured in the United States’ as a symbol of quality.”
If Connecticut is able to meet the goal set by President Obama of doubling its exports by 2015, it could generate another 30 to 40 thousand jobs in the state, the majority of them in small businesses.