U.S. CONGRESSMAN Bob Weygand
Outside the Pappitto Dining Room on the campus of Bryant College, the temperature – and the snow – was falling.
It was Friday afternoon, Jan. 8th, and a roundtable discussion on exporting hosted by U.S. Congressman Bob Weygand and the Rhode Island Export Assistance Center had been over for nearly 15 minutes.
But none of the participants – business owners representing an array of industries throughout the Ocean State – were leaving. Instead, they were milling about, talking to one another. They were sharing valuable information.
Snow or no snow, this was important business. This was about global markets. This was about dramatically expanding opportunities.
Weygand wasn’t rushing out the door, either. The forum had been a success and he was enjoying the moment.
“Look at them talking,” Weygand said. “My intent with these seminars is to get relationships started. A lot of times a new market is being in the right place at the right time – and having a contact. I think government should be doing more of this kind of thing.”
Weygand, a member of the U.S. House Budget Committee’s Subcommittee on Small Business, said he holds business forums on a regular basis as a way to inform business owners of potential opportunities both here and abroad.
The forum at Bryant focused on opportunities available to companies that are interested in exporting products to Western Europe.
“It is truly a global market,” Weygand told the business owners. “Many of you are now doing business in areas that five years ago you didn’t think you would be in.”
International markets have indeed been in turmoil, including those dependent on the Asian economies and Russia. But despite global economic problems, Rhode Island companies are exporting more than ever. In fact, through the first half of 1998, Rhode Island exports were ahead of the pace set in 1997, according to statistics compiled by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. Canada has been by far the most common destination for Rhode Island products, followed by Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Germany and Ireland.
But it is now Western Europe that is capturing the interest of American businesses, including those in Rhode Island.
“European exports have been among the biggest growth areas for Rhode Island in the past few years,” Weygand said. “The global market is rapidly changing as evidenced by the advent of the new Euro currency, the Asian financial crisis and technological communication devises.”
Participants at the roundtable offered advice taken from first-hand experience. They discussed the importance of participating in international trade shows and establishing local partners with a command of a foreign language.
Robert Miniutti, president and chief executive officer of Oracle Lens, a Warwick-based manufacturer, said his company does 30 percent of its business in foreign markets. Miniutti said that ensuring success in exporting to Europe often requires a commitment on the part of the top person in an American business.
“Europeans want to know that you are making a commitment to their region,” he said. “They want to see the president of a company at a trade show. You have to make a commitment to being there.”
Other issues raised at the roundtable included the cost of trade shows and the fact that many European competitors – such as Italy – are subsidized by their governments to participate in such shows. Several company officials acknowledged at Bryant that they spend as much as $50,000 a year to take part in trade shows.
While Rhode Island companies aren’t likely to get that kind of assistance, the Rhode Island Export Assistance Center and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation are pushing legislation at the General Assembly this year that would call for subsidies of up to $5,000 to help pay for booths at foreign trade shows.
Such a subsidy could make the difference for some companies that are considering an exporting initiative, but have yet to commit to the idea. Others have not only committed, but are surging forward to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by competing on a global stage.
William Rife, general manager of Chip Coolers, said his Warwick-based company, which produces heat sinks that cool computer chips, does between 12 and 13 percent of its business through exporting. He told roundtable participants, he had just signed on two new international distributors.
“The real exciting part of our business is the potential we have internationally,” Rife said.