By Neil Cotiaux | Photo by McKinley Wiley
The whole world is not just watching but also buying.
According to this year’s Ohio Exports Report, the Buckeye State is eighth among the 50 states when it comes to selling products overseas, with machinery, a Cleveland staple, ranked as Ohio’s leading export.
Nate Ward, center director and trade adviser at the Business Development Center Export Assistance Network, is a big reason why Cleveland firms are building a solid reputation as trading partners.
The network, housed at Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business, helps small- and medium-sized firms make sense of the often-confusing world of exporting.
One of two situations drives a company’s interest in seeking advice from Ward.
“There is an export opportunity in hand that they need to understand better or they need to grow,” Ward says.
Rick Pollack, founder and CEO of Maker Gear, is one of Ward’s clients.
Working out of his garage in 2009, Pollack started producing do-it-yourself kits for 3-D printers and selling them on the internet. As the 3-D craze exploded, he switched to finished printers and sought out growth in additional countries. The company now employs 20 at a facility in Beachwood.
Pollack contacted Ward to learn more about foreign regulations.
“He came out to see us and demonstrated to us to be an extremely helpful local resource,” Pollack says.
Use of Ward’s services expanded. Ward told Pollack about state reimbursement that is available to attend foreign trade shows and guided him to a federal source for help in vetting overseas distributors.
To date, Maker Gear has shipped product into all 50 states and to more than 75 countries. “Ten percent of our business right now is exports,” Pollack, who intends to scale up his enterprise using distributors, says.
Such success delights Ward, whose background includes international consumer products, sales, logistics, and banking. He speaks French, Spanish, and Japanese.
“Companies frequently underestimate how difficult it is to execute a sale to a foreign market” and then must contend with myriad regulatory, logistical or payment issues, he notes.
To take the sting out of trade, Ward offers two basic programs at CSU: Worldwide Market Prioritization Research and GlobalTarget.
Companies can “run around in circles,” Ward says, so for a flat fee of $500 he will prepare a customized, intensive study of a firm’s resources and products and prioritize countries that may be a good fit for their exports. The process takes 30 to 60 days and is keyed to businesses with at least $5 million in revenues. Taking “baby steps” at first in easy-to-navigate markets is best, Ward says.
His other initiative, GlobalTrade, brings two or more representatives of interested manufacturers with sales of $5 million to $50 million together with private-sector mentors, CSU faculty and subject-matter experts to help them execute their export strategies more nimbly. The 10-month series of workshops costs $2,500, a fee that includes worldwide market prioritization research.
One outside program that Ward likes to promote is the Ohio Export Internship Program, which matches companies newer to exporting with college students who have taken export-focused coursework. The program provides a 50 percent reimbursement of intern wages of up to $3,600 for full-time summer internships.
Pollack, at Maker Gear, is using his first intern from the program to explore distributorships.
Pollack praises Ward for his knowledge, availability and contacts. “Nate is part of this export ecosystem that I didn’t even know existed a year ago,” he says.
Officials of export assistance programs in Arizona and Indiana have come calling at CSU to learn more about Ward’s curriculum, and in particular GlobalTarget, so they can adapt it to their own markets.
“It’s been a model program,” Ward says.
For more information: csuohio.edu/business/global/international-trade-assistance-center