Brookings Expert Advises Chamber on Export Efforts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On the heels of Global Trade Magazine naming Greater Youngstown one of the top areas in the nation for exporting, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber received some timely advice from the Brookings Institution on what can be improved.

Marek Gootman, director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives for the think tank based Washington, D.C., related four points to the chamber and its members Wednesday morning:

  • Participating in the global economy is critical to sustaining job creation and economic growth.
  • There’s untapped potential in the Mahoning Valley.
  • Organizations can be better connected to globalization efforts.
  • Companies need to be proactive rather than react.

“This is a very significant region. It’s one of the hundred largest population regions in the country,” Gootman said afterward. “By banding together and collaborating to compete, specifically in the global marketplace, you have the scale to reach in a more coordinated way. That’s where you’ll see the benefits for Youngstown and the rest of the region.”

Gootman is in Youngstown for two days to meet with the development officials at the regional chamber and Youngstown State University.

He praised the OH-PA Stateline Export Initiative, an effort the chamber and YSU organized, as taking a step in the right direction. Even better, he noted, is Brookings provided no help in organizing it, as it has other communities.

“This region has independently taken on this effort and been very aggressive in looking at the export opportunities and global market. The places that are of a similar size have not been as aggressive,” he said. “It’s a real statement of intent. The collection of organizations on a regional scale as opposed to individual organizations working independently has been a real positive and something other markets would do well to follow.”

During his presentation, Gootman explained that companies often do better when they look for chances to export their products rather than wait for a company or organization to search for them.

“It’s better to go out and find a place that wants a product than to wait for someone to come along and ask, ‘Who wants to go to Tokyo?’ or ‘We’re going to Sweden. Who wants to come?’ ” Gootman said. Sometimes such situations rope in companies not yet ready to expand into international markets, he noted.

At the International Trade Assistance Center at YSU, director Moussa Kassis says that’s similar to what’s happening now.

“We start by zooming in. The very first thing we do with businesses is an international business plan,” he said. “We do an assessment to see what they produce and then put together an export plan. They become more of a proactive exporter than an accidental exporter.”

The export initiative is operated through Kassis’ center. One lesson he will take back to the center, he said, is the fact that business development has started to trend locally rather than on a national or statewide scale.

“The orders of economic development have changed. Most of the development and growth is in metro areas. That’s why we look at this area and thought … the support should be regional and a collaboration between all economic agencies,” Kassis said. “We can focus on supply chains, on how to work with companies to get them focused on being global and how businesses can work local and think global.”

Also helping the Valley is its history of manufacturing, on both sides of the Ohio and Pennsylvania border, Gootman said.

“This area has been a heavy manufacturing center for the country and the goods produced are in some cases unique but also globally oriented. The history around exports from some of the companies here is quite high,” he explained. “Those are the factors that you can take into account when determining a good environment [to expand into.]”

With the growth of additive manufacturing here, especially in Youngstown with America Makes and YSU’s collaborations to purchase equipment, that history bodes well for the future.

“We’re a center of advanced manufacturing. We still manufacture things,” said Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the chamber, “and that gives us the opportunity to supply the world with products that need to be made and sold to benefit people.”

Humphries said the export initiative is a step in the right direction in giving the Valley a leg up on other regions.

“The lesson we take away is that we’re on the right track. [Gootman’s] experience goes across country and off the continent, so his understanding of the global economy and how it works and how to participate is helpful for us to understand,” he said. “It’s about how we can be better.”

Pictured: Marek Gootman, director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives for the Brookings Institution, addresses business leaders.

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