Cleveland-based Rad-Con Inc. exports approximately 80% of the product it makes, with the remainder bound for domestic locations. Nine years ago, the story was quite the reverse for this maker of industrial furnaces, says Chris Messina, vice president of sales and projects. Then, 80% was domestic-bound and 20% found its way to customers outside of the United States.

Then came the recession, and with it the realization that staying in business meant growing business outside of the United States.

"We already had an international footprint," Messina says. "We needed to make it bigger."

For Clean Air America Inc., Sept. 11, 2001, was the defining moment. Business in the United States came to a standstill for this Rome, Ga.-based manufacturer of industrial air filtration systems. At that time the company, which employs fewer than 100 people, exported very little. Ten years later, exports comprise about one-quarter of Clean Air America's business, and the company plans a push into new territory next year.

"I would love exports to make up 50% of our business," says Vice President Antoinette Brahm. "We know that's not going to happen overnight."

Exports represent a huge potential market for the small to midsize manufacturer, as Fred P. Hochberg, president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, pointed out during a September visit to the Cleveland area. His backup data were persuasive: Only 5% of the world's population resides in the United States and two-thirds of the world's purchasing power is outside of the United States.

It's a potential that President Barack Obama is hoping to exploit with the National Export Initiative, a plan he announced in 2010 with the aim of doubling exports by the end of 2014.

5 Keys to Growing Your Export Sales

Huge potential doesn't easily translate into increased export sales, however. Smaller firms have limited resources in manpower, time and finances to pursue those opportunities. Indeed, SASCO Chemical Group President Marc Skalla admits that his company had made its share of missteps before hitting on a formula that saw it grow its international business by 120% in the past year.

On the following pages IndustryWeek looks at five tips small to midsize manufacturers should explore to increase their export sales and gain their share of that international buying power. For some manufacturers, increasing export sales will mean entering the international arena for the first time. For those companies, Messina says, "Start small, but start."

"Exporting makes perfect sense," adds Brahm. "When the economy is bad in one part of the world, there are always countries that are doing better. You open up other markets."