“International business is both a threat and an opportunity,” says John Gajewski, executive director in the Workforce and Economic Development Division of Cuyahoga Community College’s Corporate College. “Ohio lost 71,000 jobs to imports from December 1999 to December 2006, but we have 261,000 jobs tied to exports. So, on balance, we have a job gain.”
Smart Business talked to Gajewski about the opportunities that exist in the global market for Ohio businesses.
Where do opportunities exist for U.S. companies not yet involved in imports and exports?
The opportunity for Ohio companies in exports is very good, especially in the automotive, rubber, iron and steel industries. Ohio has a good tradition of exporting products internationally, and we can continue to capitalize on it.
Also, a study of 100,000 companies by an independent research organization determined that Ohio ranks No. 1 in the U.S. in productivity. When considering the state’s tradition of exporting and its productivity, there exists a great opportunity to become a larger exporter of products.
In what areas of the world do the most opportunities exist?
Our largest export regions, in order, are Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region. American exports to China have increased 400 percent since 1999. Based on its huge economy and economic growth, China clearly has to become one of our top priorities.
At the most basic level, what do businesses need to know to start?
At an elementary level, companies just beginning an import/export business need to remain current on regulations and compliance. This is most important for managers and administration staff who oversee this part of the business on a daily basis. For example, the U.S. has regulations on where companies may export and the type of technology that can be exported. The list of countries changes periodically. It is important for employees to know what types of technologies and products are appropriate for trade and where they can be traded.
Doesn’t the decision to take business overseas require a major change in the corporate business plan?
If your business plan has been essentially one of selling domestically, the owner/-manager needs to evaluate whether expansion outside the U.S. is justified. You have to take into consideration factors like sales channels and sales force. Is your product acceptable to the international community? Does it require approval by foreign regulatory agencies?
If you’ve decided that doing foreign business would be an opportunity for your company, you have to decide on strategies. That means examining and modifying current operations and learning how to integrate an international component as it relates to the supply chain, sales and marketing, low-cost engineering and manufacturing.
What about cultural differences?
As you develop your international strategy, you want to be aware of business practices and business etiquette in your target market. That could range from regulatory affairs to common business courtesies like how to effectively negotiate. For example, in South America, it’s not unusual to begin a negotiation by establishing a personal relationship. That discussion could be over breakfast, sharing personal information, family history and establishing a relationship — and then moving on to business.
Our institution uses a unique online training program that allows participants in a business etiquette/practices seminar to map their own personality traits and compare them with the cultural norms of the country they currently or hope to do business with. This quickly illuminates where an executive or manager needs to make modifications in his or her approach. It is most appropriate for sales professionals, marketing executives and program managers who may be starting to travel internationally or teleconference with peers and program teams around the world.
To optimize success, it is best to know the cultural norms that you are dealing with. Blended training tools that consist of instructor-led discussion and online learning, like ours, provide the necessary information and data for a highly successful training experience.
What other resources exist for those seeking to expand their business internationally?
The Ohio Department of Development (800-848-1300 or www.odod.state.oh.us) is a good place to start. You can also get more information at colleges and community colleges, such as Tri-C’s Corporate College Division.
JOHN GAJEWSKI is executive director in the Workforce and Economic Development Division at Tri-C’s Corporate College. Reach him at (216) 987-3048 or email@example.com. The Web site is www.corporatecollege.com/I_GlobalBusiness.aspx.