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Friday, September 12, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Program helps businesses fast track exporting program


By MaryBeth Matzek
Exports are big business for Wisconsin companies. Whether it's heavy-duty equipment from CNH and lawnmowers from Ariens Co. to Harley-Davidson motorcycles and specialty foods, products from Wisconsin go around the world.

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently reported that exports supported 126,147 jobs in Wisconsin during 2013. It's those kinds of numbers that sparked the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership to launch its ExporTech program in 2010 to encourage businesses to not only look outside of Wisconsin, but the United States for potential customers.

ExporTech features three training sessions where companies receive targeted training for their specific needs, individual support from export specialists and how to increase a product's speed to market time. It's designed for manufacturers with less than 500 employees.

"The program fast tracks Wisconsin manufacturers to the best export markets for their products, provides personal coaching to build their value proposition and their export expansion strategy, introduces them to a whole international resource community, vets their export expansion plan with experts, and stays with them to remove roadblocks should you get stuck in implementation," says Roxanne Baumann, WMEP's director of global engagement.

ExporTech graduates average $900,000 in global export sales in just six to nine months, Baumann says. "It's not just for newbies to exporting, but we can also work with more established manufacturers to help them increase their exports," she says.

Baumann says many companies become exporters by accident when they pick up a client in Canada or Mexico. They then struggle trying to figure out all the necessary steps and procedures.

"Now companies need to fast track their exporting strategies. For the ExporTech classes, we bring in eight non-competing businesses and each of them crafts a strategic exporting plan for their business," Baumann says. "It's really a lot of fun to watch businesses see their overseas sales go bonkers after being in the program."

Top export categories in Wisconsin include machinery except electrical, computer and electronic products; transportation equipment; food products and chemicals. Wisconsin companies most frequently do business with clients in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany, Baumann says.

Lingering benefits

Higher water levels on Lake Michigan thanks to more precipitation and a cooler-than-normal summer means vessels on the Great Lakes are able to carry more cargo.

"That's good news for the Port of Green Bay and other ports on the Great Lakes system," says Dean Haen, director for the Brown County Port & Resource Recovery Department. "When water levels increase, ships are able to carry additional cargo and gain increased efficiencies."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently reported Lake Michigan water levels are 15 inches above where they were a year ago. Climate plays a big role in water levels and the snowy and cold winter – which led to near record levels of ice coverage on the lakes – combined with lower summer temperatures (which means less evaporation) means increased water levels.

"Once the winter ice conditions ended, the season took off and we've had excellent results," Haen says.

Oshkosh grant program expands

The East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has received another $1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense for its efforts to diversify the region's economy following job cuts at Oshkosh Truck.

In 2013, the Department of Defense awarded $837,000 to the planning commission. The funds were used to map the defense industry's supply chain, invest in aviation and aerospace industry marketing and development projects and help businesses affected by the Defense Department cuts to find new customers.

Some of the new funds will help support the new airport business park in Oshkosh, a business accelerator run by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and help the planning commission as it works to foster collaboration with regional economic groups and help find new markets for companies affected by cuts in Defense Department spending in the region.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


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