Global customers translate into American jobs. This isn't news to Portland, Ore. The region exports $21 billion worth of goods annually. In fact it is one of only four regions in the U.S. that have been able to double exports over the past decade.
Current economic conditions are causing the city to bolster its exports. "Our goal is to hit $42 billion in five years, which would create 110,000 new jobs," says Sean Robbins, CEO of Greater Portland Inc. Every $1 billion in exports creates 5,400 new jobs.
Job retention and attraction is the ultimate goal. "In our region, one out of every five jobs depends on exports," explains Jill Eiland, Northwest Region corporate affairs manager for Intel Corp. (IW 500/26) and co-chair of the Regional Export Council. In 2010, exports accounted for 142,000 jobs in the region.
"Our previous export growth happened on its own but now we have a specific strategy," says Robbins. "The essential problem is that most companies are small and medium-sized and exporting can be an intimidating process. A lot of companies weren't exporting or they were accidently exporting by following a customer into another market but they didn't have a country strategy."
The Greater Portland Export Initiative will focus on a few clusters, including advanced manufacturing, to provide assistance to key manufacturers. One of the region's strength is in computer and electronic manufacturing which accounts for 57% of the total exports.
"One of our goals is to diversify our economic base as we create a market that is tied to international customers," adds Robbins.
Graeme Harrison, executive vice president of Biamp Systems, a manufacturer of commercially installed audio electronics, is optimistic about the initiative. "What I like about Greater Portland is that they have a real appreciation of the difficulties that companies face. The export process must be streamlined, as small companies' limited workforces are busy fighting fires."
In a survey conducted some reasons given by small companies for not exporting were lack of financing, having enough business locally and the "fear of the unknown."
Harrison understands the hesitation that many companies have about exporting and explains that companies need to shift their viewpoint to "become more global."
Understanding not only the process but how to conduct business in various countries has proven to be successful for Biamp. The company is seeing significant growth in developing countries. "Often the shift in the market, especially in high-tech, begins in developing countries that don't have roadblocks in the form of existing channels of distribution," Harrison says.
The company now has a global strategy and that goal is to increase its export business to 50% of sales in the next five years.
Having a global strategy is so important that Harrison advises that when developing products companies should always approach it from the viewpoint that one day they will export, even if that is in the distant future.