For decades, government agencies and trade-support organizations across the U.S. have celebrated World Trade Month in May.
But May 2020 is like no other, as the world just begins a long road to recovery from the unprecedented health and economic impacts of a global pandemic, including forecasts for declines in global trade.
During this month and the challenging times ahead, the trade specialists at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) are stressing a single message to businesses: We’re committed to helping you restore or grow international sales as an important piece of your recovery.
“What worries me is that over the next year many in North Carolina may feel the need to shut the door on international opportunities because ‘that’s where COVID came from,’ ” says John Loyack, EDPNC vice president of global business services.
“But now is the time to stay engaged internationally. The businesses that will come out of this situation in the strongest position will have used this time to strengthen their international sales relationships. This is also an opportunity to rethink and strengthen your supply chain. We have the resources to help.”
Who Turns to Us
Last year, the EDPNC trade team supported more than 600 businesses on the state’s behalf, with services that are largely free. Those businesses were part of a much larger community of exporters who made 2019 ― before COVID-19’s impact on global economies ― the state’s best year ever in the value of exported goods. North Carolina exported $34.35 billion in merchandise, a nearly 5% increase over the high-water mark of $32.76 billion reached in 2018.
EDPNC’s exporting clients are primarily small manufacturers of 500 or fewer employees that lack the international sales staff of big corporations. They turn to the EDPNC for export education and preparation, as well as connections to international distributors and buyers.
Powerful Ally: Trade Offices Around the World
The EDPNC international trade team includes five Raleigh-based managers ― each specializing in specific industry sectors ranging from aerospace to pharmaceuticals ― and six trade offices located in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, China (Hong Kong), and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
One year ago, the EDPNC added the state’s first Singapore-based representative to help businesses sell in the Southeast Asia market including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.
“Our global offices can match businesses with prospective international distributors, resellers and buyers,” says Mike Hubbard, EDPNC director of international trade. “They can also be very helpful in terms of vetting new overseas suppliers for a company.”
The EDPNC is eager to help manufacturers seek alternative international sources for product components if their supply chain has been broken by COVID-19 plant closures. “We’re also strongly encouraging businesses to search for a North Carolina-based supplier listed on the Manufactured in North Carolina website or find other domestic suppliers through industry-specific resources such as the Americas Apparel Producers’ Network and its Source Center,” Hubbard says.
Trade Show and Website Support
In 2019, 212 North Carolina companies participated in 34 international trade shows and missions with the EDPNC. But in 2020, COVID-19 slashed international business travel and canceled trade events around the world.
So, the EDPNC’s trade specialists have pivoted toward helping businesses build their export sales pipeline through search-engine optimizing of their websites in international markets, online export education, and virtual consultations with EDPNC global trade offices.
When international business travel and events safely resume, the EDPNC will again lead groups of North Carolina small businesses to trade shows. And it will help many businesses afford the costs of participating.
State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grants, funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and administered locally by the EDPNC, help qualified companies to exhibit jointly with the EDPNC or individually at select trade shows. STEP can also reimburse costs of travel, lodging, and foreign-language translation of marketing materials.
In addition, STEP supports the EDPNC’s new North Carolina Online Global Program, which helps small businesses pay for search engine optimization and translation of their websites in two target countries.
As a response to COVID-19’s blow to trade show travel, STEP recently doubled the grant amount available to small businesses that want to globalize their websites. Contact the EDPNC to apply for the $6,000 grant and connect to a company qualified to do the website work.
“Localized websites are always key to raising brand awareness and generating sales leads overseas, but more so now when COVID-19 has forced companies to stop international travel and trade shows to cancel,” Loyack says. “When your sales team can’t be there in person, an easily found and understood website in your target market is even more crucial.”
Other Critical Trade Support
Directly or through referral to one of its partners, the EDPNC provides new and experienced exporters other support including:
• Workshops that teach employees how to comply with U.S. export control laws and understand the latest in trade topics.
• Connections to financial risk-mitigation programs of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the SBA and other trade-financing organizations.
• Navigation of government restrictions and complex trade regulations and policies.
• Information about product standards for entering specific foreign markets and existing competitors there.
• Recommendations on potential markets for specific products or services.
• Market-entry strategies and intelligence in export-destination countries.
Businesses interested in learning more about how the EDPNC can help them grow their global presence should contact Mike Hubbard, EDPNC international trade director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919-447-7757. Download our 2019 Trade Report for more information about our services and how to reach our industry-specific trade specialists.