When it comes to exporting, many companies put together a deliberate plan and then execute it. For Bernsten International Inc., a Madison-based manufacturer of survey and wayfaring markers, it's been the other way around. The company got into exporting by accident more than 30 years ago when it received a custom order from Saudi Arabia. Since then, Bernsten developed a process to print markers in a variety of languages and exported to 90 countries.
But President Rhonda Rushing wanted a more deliberate plan for the company's exporting endeavors, deciding to focus in on a few key markets where Bernsten could achieve additional market penetration. She turned to the ExporTech program, which is supported by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and offered by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The company focused on Canada as its top strategic market.
"We believe there is a great potential to expand upon what we have already done there. There are fewer barriers to exporting to Canada than most areas in the world," Rushing says. "Geographically, culturally, and language wise, this is a good fit for us."
Bernsten International isn't alone when it comes to setting its sights on Canada. For many companies in Wisconsin – and actually across the United States – Canada is a great first foreign market to jump into.
Canada's close proximity to Wisconsin makes it an ideal product destination, says Katy Sinnott, WEDC's international vice president.
"Geographically, it's a good fit – we're pretty much on the same time zone and they also have a highly developed legal system that supports business' IP rights," she says. "They also speak English – even in Quebec where French is dominant, most people know English. All those are positives."
But companies need to make sure the product they're looking to sell is unique since the Canadian market is well developed, Sinnott says. "You need to be strategic before you enter into that market," she says. "You need to make sure what you're selling is high quality and offers a solution or something new."
Sinnott says the WEDC is hosting an upcoming trade trip to Canada to help businesses interested in exporting north of the border. In addition to the trip, the agency supports ExporTech, a program focused on C level professionals that discusses strategy, plans and how to execute them, as well offering grants to that provide financial assistance to companies looking to increase their exports.
"Businesses that get involved in exporting not only see increased revenues, they also tend to become more efficient in their production since they learn about more production ideas," Sinnott says. "Companies also get more creative since they're exposed to more ideas."
Rushing is excited about Bernsten's new opportunities in Canada and putting together a more cohesive exporting plan, but admits it's a bit scary.
"There are many challenges to exporting for a small manufacturer like us including the fear of unknown" of how much time, staff resources, risk or complexity that may be involved, she says.
Despite the challenge, Bernsten's is ready for it, Rushing says.
Economic organization changes in Oshkosh
For many years, Oshkosh had multiple economic development organizations that didn't always seem to be on the same page with each other or the City of Oshkosh. In recent months, that has changed dramatically with the launch of the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. or GO-EDC.
GO-EDC is a public/private organization will take over as the city's industrial development corporation from CHAMCO, which served the community for 55 years. Starting Jan. 1, GO-EDC will serve industrial clients, provide staff support to the Industrial Park Development Committee and support staff to the Aviation Development Committee, which is developing the Oshkosh Aviation Business Park.
GO-EDC will also administer a new $2.4 million Revolving Loan Fund for the City of Oshkosh. That fund is being created with the cash balances from three TIF districts that are being closed.
While GO-EDC searches for a permanent chief executive officer, Oshkosh businessman and the group's board chairman, Bill Wyman, was named interim CEO. Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, a former WEDC official and president of Economic and Community Development Solutions, was named interim chief operating officer.
Soaring insurance costs
This is something you don't want to lead the state in. Northeastern Wisconsin saw its health insurance costs climb faster than anywhere else in the state during the past 14 years, according to the annual Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Rankings Report.
Monthly premiums for large group plans grew 366 percent since 2000 – which outpaces other metro areas in the state. Back in 2000, the region had the lowest-cost premiums for large group insurance pools but the current number is high above the state average. The average monthly premium in a large-group program statewide is $763. In Green Bay, the average premium is $791.
The Appleton-Oshkosh market came in second, with an increase of 247 percent since 2000. Statewide, the report says large-group health insurance rates increased 211 percent in the past 14 years.
-- 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.