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Export Assistance Network Links Region to World

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The vast majority of businesses in the five-county region might be small, but some of them have the breadth and scope of a major global corporation.

Companies in this region and across Ohio have stepped-up interest in the global market, discovering that their products and services are in demand in some of the far reaches of the world.

Manufacturers, for example, want to enter new markets as a way to hedge against a sluggish local or national economy, says Ellen Chittester, an international-trade consultant with the Ohio Export Assistance Network. 

“In our area, our export share is 15.9% of our gross domestic product,” she reports. “That’s the fifth-best in the nation.” 

By comparison, exports accounted for just 9.3% of the regional GDP in 2003, according to a report issued by the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase.

And that number is likely to grow, Chittester says, given Ohio’s proximity to the Canadian market and its strong manufacturing base. 

In the five-county region, export business totaled $3.8 billion in 2017 and supported 7,870 direct jobs in the economy. By comparison, in 2003, companies exported $2.4 billion worth of products, which supported 6,720 local jobs.

By The Numbers: A breakdown of employees and establishments by their Standard Industrial Classification in each county.

In this region, nonferrous metal products constituted $1.18 billion worth of exports in 2017, according to the report. Aircraft products and parts accounted for $680 million in exports; followed by oil and gas extraction and aluminum products at $160 million.

Meanwhile, to complete the top-five industries serving the global market, in 2017 motor vehicles accounted for $120 million in exports. Overall, the manufacturing sector in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys exported $3.1 billion worth of products in 2017, the report says.

The Export Assistance Network sits in the Ohio Small Business Development Center at the Williamson College of Business Administration at Youngstown State University and is among seven such centers in the state. The center serves as a conduit for those local companies seeking to do business overseas, Chittester says. “We help them do market research, prepare them for market readiness, identify the markets that they should be developing and provide resources to help them do that.”

Most of the local companies in the network contact the center first because they’ve received a request for an order from overseas and aren’t quite sure how to go about breaking into global markets, Chittester says. “A lot of it is reactive,” she says. 

The Export Assistance Network can help these businesses secure partnerships overseas, she says. 

“Say a company wants to expand into Germany,” Chittester explains. “We could set up a call to our connections there and help identify five or six companies that could partner with our client as a distributor.”

That list is forwarded to the company for further consideration and the network is available to arrange business calls with some of the principals of the overseas firms.

This faciliation was evident recently as the Export Assistance Network sponsored a trade mission to Vietnam and Thailand, Chittester says. 

It happens that there is a significant YSU alumni base in Thailand and the trip presented the opportunity to arrange a networking dinner with the four regional businesses and the Thai alum. 

“Out of that, hopefully we’ll see some partnerships as well,” she says.

Businesses are able to seek partial reimbursements of expenses related to international trade shows or trade missions through its Image grant program, Chittester says. “If they spend $25,000, we’re able to reimburse that company for half the cost.”

These area businesses find the global market is an important player in the local economy, and are looking at ways to do business with emerging markets in Latin America and Southeast Asia – especially in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, Chittester says. 

“A lot of companies are seeing China as a place to move away from and instead want to grow business in other places. These emerging markets are putting out a lot of money in order to bring businesses in,” she says.  

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.