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  February 20th, 2015 | Written by

Best Of The West

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Western U.S. states offer assorted successful programs to aid exporters, ranging from the simple to the complicated. But sometimes it’s just the facilitation of contact with potential customers that works best.

LOOK AT THE STATE OF WASHINGTON. EXPORTS ARE BOOMING HERE, SETTING A RECORD IN 2013 WITH $81.9 billion worth of products sold to international customers.  Washington’s Department of Commerce has taken the lead in assisting state manufacturers’ export efforts. This facilitation has
propelled exports to grow by more than 200 percent since 1996.

One company which has benefited from state programs is Seattle-based B&G Machinery, a 61-year-old specialist in remanufactured diesel engines and component machining. Needing to diversify its markets, B&G turned to the state for assistance in
reaching companies beyond the U.S. and Canada. That aid came from several areas, including Washington’s Small Business Administration State Trade & Export Promotion (STEP)
program. STEP provided a grant that allowed the company to attend a trade show in Germany.

“They helped us work with customers in Europe and helped us participate in a trade show in Hanover,” explains Johnny Bianchi, B&G’s vice president of Finance and Administration.

State Commerce officials also have helped B&G navigate the complex path of international trade regulations
and find necessary resources for questions that arise. As a result,
B&G’s export sales have grown rapidly, from 20 percent of overall
sales a decade ago to more than 65 percent today.

All of the Western states have their own versions of STEP grants
and are funded partially through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

For example, California figures to mark 2014 as its best-ever year
for exports, according to a report released in early December by
Beacon Economics. This news comes despite congestion at the state’s major seaports. Beacon discovered that one
thing helping California is exporting components valued at billions of dollars overland to assembly plants in Mexico and Canada, the state’s top two export partners.

California exporters also can find solutions through the Governor’s
Office of Business and Economic Development’s International Affairs and Business Development Unit, which offers support on issues relating to international trade. The California Centers for International Trade Development, with a dozen
offices at community colleges across the state, provide an array of free or low-cost assistance to firms seeking to develop international business.

Arizona offers plenty of logistics infrastructure for export-oriented
manufacturers, including the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. This facility is one of the nation’s 10 busiest airports
as well as a significant air cargo hub. Additionally, the state has six
border crossings with Mexico. One of them—the Mariposa port of entry— recently completed a $250 million makeover. It is a key U.S. business land port, and a major center of import and export traffic.

The Arizona Commerce Authority offers a variety of programs for
manufacturers. These include trade missions, and participation in global trade shows and export counseling.

Oregon is home to several high profile global firms that export,
including Intel, Nike and Columbia Sportswear. A much lesser-known company is Benchmade Knife Co. based in Oregon City. Like B&G in Washington, the company has seen its exports take off following participation in international trade shows. This
fast-growing firm exports its knives and cutting instruments to about 40 countries around the globe.

Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, has
provided the company with grants from its Oregon Trade Promotion
Program, and the funding allowed Benchmade to attend a defense and security industry trade show in South America. A company official also accompanied Oregon’s governor on a business-development mission to Asia.

Subsequently, Benchmade has seen its exports grow rapidly over the past few years. Its top-of-the-line knives, costing up to $2,000 each, are in particular demand in China.

Mining is big in Nevada. The state’s biggest export partner is
Switzerland, as Nevada gold goes into precision-made Swiss watches.

But a burgeoning start-up firm in Elko, operating in the heart of the
state’s mining region, also is finding success in Switzerland. In this case, while Nevada offers numerous export programs, the company has forged a niche business largely on its own.

Grason Lighting specializes in the development and manufacture
of high-quality LED lights. Company owner Jim Grady notes Grason is now supplying its lights to a chain of gas stations in Switzerland. “[Our customer] owns a few hundred gas stations and is happy with the product’s performance,” he says.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re also working on developing a relationship with a German company interested in a modified version of the light.”

Beyond Switzerland, the firm hopes its energy-saving lights prove to be even more popular across energy-conscious Europe, and become a fixture in the mining industry.