With Help from SBDC, Kirila Fire Expands Exporting to 25 Countries

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As is the case with many small businesses, the staff and owners of Kirila Fire Training Facilities Inc. knew exactly how to do what they do, in this case,  designing, manufacturing and installing fire-training systems.

But when it came to navigating international trade laws, those skills proved to be of limited use.

“We’re manufacturing the equipment. We’re not foreign trade experts,” said President Jerry Kirila.

What they needed was someone to help them run, as Kirila put it, “the business side of the business.” So in early 2013, Kirila began working with the staff at the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University.

The partnership has been so successful that in September, Kirila was recognized by the Small Business Administration as the Exporter of the Year for the Great Lakes Region, which includes Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“They help us connect the dots with banking, legal, accounting, taxes,” said Kirila.“They help us run our business.”

Members of the local SBDC and YSU presented him and his wife, Marcy, on Thursday.

From its site in Fowler, the Kirila Fire has long provided its services across the country, but through its work with the Small Business Development Center, Kirila now does business in about 25 countries.

Its work sites have included the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township, Lackland Air Force Basein Texas, McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Camp Butler in Japan and Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

“The way I always describe Jerry is like an eagle with big wings,” said Mousa Kassis, director of the SBDC’s Export Assistance Network at YSU. “He’s just flying all over the world and all that we did was provide the wind under his wings.”

In more literal terms, Kirila says Kassis and the SBDC helped his company navigate complex international rules, locate foreign banks and wade through stacks of tender documents that were often inches thick.

Just bidding on a project was a daunting task, says Kirila.

“You have to have a line of credit with a local bank. You have to have a line of credit with a foreign bank and they marry up somehow,” he said.

Betty Jo Licata, dean of the Williamson College of Business Administration, said one of the hallmarks of the local SBDC is how integrated it is with not only the business community, but also with the academics of the college.

“Their innovative programs and the ways they’re engaging students is really a role model for many SBDCs who do not do this,” she said.

That innovation was recognized in 2019, when the Small Business Administration presented the SBDC at YSU with the Excellence in Innovation Award.

It was yet another example of the positive impact the university is having on the community, said YSU President Jim Tressel.

“Every day something happens on this campus that is connecting with the community, making a difference and gaining national acclaim,” he said. 

Exporting has helped Kirila do more work and grow name recognition in a niche market, Kirila said.

It’s also helping the company, which employs just over 50, get an edge on the competition.

“As we work in the foreign markets and see what they want, we’re bringing those ideas back to the U.S.,” Kirila said. “There’s a knowledge base that we’re gaining.”

Pictured: Marcy and Jerry Kirila of Kirila Fire Training Facilities were honored by Youngstown State President Jim Tressel and Mousa Kassis, director of the Export Assistance Network at YSU’s Small Business Development Network.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.