Washington is Heating Up!
WOOD STONE CORPORATION EXEMPLIFIES THE EVERGREEN STATE’S EXPORT SURGE
Keith Carpenter didn’t have intentions of starting a company that manufactured stone hearth wood- and gas-fired industrial ovens that would be exported worldwide. Prior to 1990, he only wanted to satisfy a customer’s request for a wood-fired oven. But after contacting an acquaintance who built ceramic incinerators and doing some homework, both found themselves in business.
Since 1990, their Bellingham, Washington-headquartered company, Wood Stone Corp., has sold over 10,000 pieces of equipment in more than 75 countries and was recently acquired by Henny Penny, a complimentary business.
Today, Wood Stone products have been expanded from stone hearth ovens and wood-fired rotisseries to include a mix of theater and specialty restaurant cooking equipment for clients such as California Pizza Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck, Whole Foods Market and Marriott Hotels & Resorts.
Like many Washington companies, Wood Stone ventured into exporting partially by accident and partially by design. Its first foray into international sales came from an appeal from California Pizza Kitchen, which was opening a restaurant in Singapore.
“We supplied them with ovens for several years, then realized we needed a more comprehensive marketing and service plan for going to market and initiating the challenges of distribution internationally,” says Merrill Bevan, Wood Stone vice president, International Sales & Team Building.
It hired a distributor in England, which was quickly becoming Wood Stone’s largest international market, and one year later engaged an export management company to handle distribution in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.
Wood Stone also benefits from Washington’s natural attributes—its proximity to Canada and Asia and its natural deep-water ports. Its Bellingham location on the Canadian border also offers an entrée to cross-country rail service via Vancouver for shipments to Eastern Seaboard seaports.
Then there are Washington’s global brands that help put the state on the map as an export giant—Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco and Amazon. Not surprisingly, the state’s Department of Commerce reports that one in three Washington jobs are tied to international trade.
Most of all, Wood Stone has benefitted from funding for infrastructure improvements that has spurred even more exports. In 2007, the company expanded its facilities from 60,000 to 120,000 square feet. Those funds came from the Washington Department of Commerce’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) through Whatcom County’s Port of Bellingham.
CERB provides funding to local governments for public infrastructure that supports private business growth and expansion. It is an example of how the Washington Department of Commerce leverages local participation and public-private partnerships for strategic investment in economic development.
“This option for financing was especially helpful in that it gave us the ability to invest in a new building,” Bevan says. “It also gave us the ability to finance some of the metal fabrication equipment we needed in order to compete.”
Wood Stone is a tenant of the Port of Bellingham, which has 1,683 acres in its real estate portfolio and is a development associate for Whatcom County. “We also reach out to companies to promote resources such as the EX-IM Bank, U.S. Commercial Services and export finance assistance,” reports Dodd Snodgrass, Port of Bellingham’s FTZ administrator.
There are other examples of Washington programs assisting companies expanding their exporting efforts.
Like Wood Stone, Slingshot Sports LLC located in Bonneville, a rural town in the depths of the Columbia River Gorge, had become a seasoned exporter with a network of faithful distributors. But when this manufacturer of internationally known kiteboards expanded its product line, its executives found the company needed to fine-tune its export strategy.
Enter a Washington State Department of Commerce-sponsored program that gives companies in rural areas an opportunity to take advantage of export-skills training. The training is made possible by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program.
By taking advantage of the program, Slingshot Sports executives learned how to leverage credit insurance and export financing to broaden its appeal to foreign buyers. They also received advice, during one-on-one consultation with a Commerce trade specialist, on how to save thousands of dollars when developing overseas relationships.
“Commerce showed us that instead of spending $50,000 on a trade show, we could spend $10,000 to $15,000 on a road show instead,” says Jeff Logosz, Slingshot Sports’ co-founder.
The company used an export voucher from Commerce, provided by STEP funding. The voucher offset the costs of setting up a central meeting location in Europe to meet with potential buyers from around the continent. The road show delivered a sales boost well above expectations.
Washington businesses understand the power of tapping into overseas markets. In fact, according to the Washington Department of Commerce, more than 8,000 Washington companies grow their business by exporting.
“Creating a culture of exporting is vital to Washington’s economy,” comments Brian Bonlender, Washington Commerce Department director.
Smaller and new-to-export companies face tough challenges in getting their products and services to the international marketplace. “That’s where the state plays an important role,” Bonlender adds. “We provide research, training and expertise for target market development, business-to-business matchmaking, connections to legal and financial resources such as Ex-Im Bank, trade missions and other support that companies need in order to grow through exporting.”
Exporters find Washington State’s well-organized network of trade-related organizations helpful, such as the Washington Council of International Trade (WCIT), Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle (TDA), Washington State China Relations Council, World Trade Center Tacoma, International Trade Alliance-Spokane, and the number of ethnic chambers such as the Washington State China Chamber of Commerce, African Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest and the Greater Seattle Vietnam Association.
“TDA, our sister organization, works one-on-one with businesses to help them find customers and build global trade relationships,” says Eric Schinfeld, WCIT president. “They lead trade delegations around the world and host inbound delegates coming to Washington that want to make connections for trade or inward investment.”
In fact, Schinfeld calls Greater Seattle the most internationally tied region in the United States, given its key industries that range aerospace, IT, biotech and clean tech.
“Much of [Washington’s] economy is built on a vibrant foundation of world-class research, a diverse, highly skilled workforce and a network of business and trade services,” he says. “This is where the world comes to build our tomorrow.”
Merchandise export value for Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA: 2011, $41.1 billion; 2012, $50.3 billion, up 22.3 percent.
Electric rates for Seattle and its metro area: 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour—one of the lowest rates of any metro area in the U.S.
Together, the Ports of Seattle/Tacoma are the second-largest container transshipment point in the U.S., shipping a combined $20.4 billion of U.S. products in 2011. Its multimodal freight transport system includes the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett; Sea-Tac International Airport; BNSF and Union Pacific; and Interstates 5, 405, and 90.
Other key seaports: Port of Olympia and Port of Vancouver USA, largely break-bulk ports.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the nation’s 16th largest passenger airport, serving more than 33 million passengers in 2012, a record for the airport.
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