Export Initiative Announces Southeast Asia Trade Mission

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A trade mission next spring led by the Ohio-Pennsylvania Stateline Export Initiative will allow seven area companies to tap into markets in Thailand and Vietnam, two rapidly growing economies with vast potential for companies in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

“There’s a lot of demand and need for this region’s products. Vietnam is growing at 7.4% [gross domestic product] with 100 million people and Thailand is growing at about 4%, with all estimates that they’ll be growing more and more in coming years,” said Mousa Kassis, export assistance director of the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University. “There’s large markets, large populations and a lot of trade. We don’t want to miss any opportunity.”

The mission, announced Tuesday at YSU’s Williamson Hall, is led by the Stateline Export Initiative, a partnership between the Small Business Development Center’s parent agency – the Ohio Development Service Agency – and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Office of International Business.

Trade between the two countries and Ohio and Pennsylvania totaled $5.4 billion last year and, in 2016, U.S. exports to Vietnam rose 43.2%, the largest increase among the nation’s top 50 export markets. Meanwhile, Thailand is the ninth-largest export market among Asian countries.

“The No. 1 benefit is to diversify their opportunities, to spread their risk a little,” said Linda Forester, international program manager for the Pennsylvania international development office. “If the U.S. market is having a downturn, usually international markets can offer an alternative for good business.”

Added Dorte Heffernan, international trade manager for the Northwest Commission, “When we help companies export, it increases their profits and jobs, good-paying jobs. Companies that export are able to pay better salaries and better benefits than companies that don’t.”

The Northwest Commission is the local branch of the Department of Community and Economic Development, serving an eight-county region in northwestern Pennsylvania, including Mercer and Lawrence counties.

Applications will be available soon on the Stateline Export Initiative website, OHPAExports.com. Only seven companies will be accepted for the trip – four from Ohio and three from Pennsylvania – to allow for dedicated market research to be compiled and one-on-one meetings in Bangkok, Thailand, and Ho CHi Minh City, Vietnam, to be set up.

“We have the outcome in view when we organize trade missions like this. We want the companies to have a very positive experience and have immediate success,” Heffernan said. “If you just grab a bunch of companies without market research or without preset appointments, those success are very limited.”

The deadline to apply is Jan. 11. Applications can be submitted to Kassis for Ohio companies at [email protected] or, for Pennsylvania companies, to Heffernan at [email protected].  Among the sectors that could benefit from the trade mission include, but aren’t limited to, industrial and electric machinery, auto parts, agriculture, plastics and injection molds, chemical products, engineering, aerospace and metals.

A federal grant will allow companies to be reimbursed up to 50% for the costs of flights, fees and lodging during the trip, scheduled for March 22-30. During the trip, two days of meetings are scheduled, including briefings on local economic and business conditions.

Work on the trade mission has been going for about two years, Kassis said, stemming from discussions with the YSU Alumni chapter in Bangkok, Thailand, which has about 100 members.

“As we dug more and did our research, we saw the synergies between Ohio and Pennsylvania that could create the mission,” he said, noting the trip is the first organized by the Stateline Export Initiative.

Added Heffernan: “We share many of the same industries. We have almost the same industrial make-up. A lot of it is heavy machinery and electronics. There’s good synergy between the two sides to look overseas at these target markets.”

The market research reports will be assembled by a consulting firm the state of Pennsylvania has worked with for more than 20 years for projects ranging from trade missions to trade shows. For such trips, Forester said, the state has reporting requirements for things such as direct export sales to keep tabs on their efficacy.

“They do the business-to-business meetings and the matchmaking that’s all done before [companies] depart. It’s all ready by the time they get there,” she said. “We find very good results. … The biggest outcome is that [companies] come back to our events and services.”

The impact of the trade mission stretches beyond just the seven companies and the other travelers, which include representatives from the Small Business Development Center, Northwest Commission and the Columbiana County Port Authority. YSU President Jim Tressel said students involved in the Ohio Export Internship Program, which at Youngstown State is run by the developer center, will be able to gain further insights into the export process.

“They’re getting the understanding of what it takes: what’s the research, how do you connect, what are the regulations. Then they see how that’s taken to the next level, where we take businesses over and how they connect,” he said. “They’ll have the background from working with Moussa and now the connections to the Stateline Export Initiative. It all flows together.”

He also took pride in noting that the roots of this trip come from the YSU Alumni chapter in Bangkok.

“It makes us proud to think that even though they’re halfway around the world, they can still be a part of what we’re accomplishing here at Youngstown State and in the region,” Tressel said. “they’re willing to reach back and tell us, ‘You may want to consider coming here to connect with these groups and we’ll help you figure it out.’ ”

Pictured: Mousa Kassis, export assistance director of the Small Business Development Center at YSU, announced the Stateline Export Initiative’s trade mission to Thailand and Vietnam.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.