Washington’s leaders focus on opening up international trade opportunities for small businesses

Commerce now has in-country representation in 10 countries helping our state’s small businesses grow through exporting and international business partnerships

The math speaks for itself. Export opportunities are a winning opportunity for Washington businesses.

· Jobs: At least one in four jobs in Washington state is connected to exports. The state’s economy is more closely aligned with international trade than any other state.

· Markets: More than 80% of the worlds purchasing power is outside the United States, making exporting a consistent source of growth and opportunity for businesses of all sizes. Currently, fewer than 1% of U.S. companies engage in export.

· Profits: It’s estimated that companies that export are 17% more profitable than those that don’t.

· Resiliency: Exports and international business development have been an important factor in our state’s resilience, helping many businesses ride out the last several recessions.

Chris Green, Assistant Director at the state Department of Commerce, spoke to the Senate Commerce Committee on Business, Financial Services & Trade today to discuss the importance of investing in international trade efforts, saying the pandemic has highlighted the role of trade in the recovery of small businesses. Click here to watch the video on TVW.

Graph showing Washington exports (adjusted) total, which have declined sharply in recent years due to aerospace challenges, retaliatory tariffs and COVID, and non-aerospace exports, which declined much less dramatically in the same timeframe. from 2014–2020.

Since 2014, the state’s Department of Commerce has provided assistance services over 5,300 times, helping over 1,500 unique small businesses grow business overseas, generating sales to international customers valued at over $1 billion.

Unfortunately, export sales have been impacted the past year by COVID-19, multiple challenges for Boeing and the aerospace industry as a whole, and retaliatory tariffs. State leaders are looking for ways to support Washington companies with the tools they need to develop market diversification strategies and access new global markets. As part of its strategy to strengthen trade relationships, the Washington State Department of Commerce expanded the state’s in-country representation from three to 10 strategic partners focused on 18 target countries around the world.

“Relationships are crucial to building new business opportunities, and face-to-face contact is very often the foundation for success, especially in foreign countries. International trade has always been fundamental to our economy, and that’s even more true now as we look for ways to help smaller businesses recover and grow beyond the pandemic.” — Commerce Director Lisa Brown

Over the years, funding has ebbed and flowed for maintaining contracts with in-country representatives who are vital partners with Commerce in raising Washington state’s profile and marketing the state’s business advantages and competitiveness overseas. Maintaining these contract relationships has proven year after year to be the most efficient and effective way for Commerce’s trade team to leverage a relatively tiny budget and travel limitations to help create significant successes for small businesses, raise the state’s profile and attract foreign direct investment (FDI).

Prior to this year, Commerce worked with representatives in Europe (UK, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Benelux — Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands), South Korea and Japan. Now, Washington businesses will benefit from the addition of in-country representation in Canada, Brazil, Colombia, China, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel.

Interactive world map showing Commerce’s 10 in-country representative office locations and key export opportunities for Washington companies.
Click on the interactive map to see export opportunities for Washington companies and key industry sectors.

This work is more important than ever, as international trade shows and missions ground to a halt due to the pandemic. Small businesses depend on state-sanctioned events and supports to provide market intelligence reports, development strategies, pre-arranged partnership meetings, virtual marketing events and more. In-country representatives provide a consistent, trusted presence that is essential to opening doors and making connections with partners, buyers and distributors. Working collaboratively, Commerce is able offer direct expertise, knowledge, relationships and resources internationally that would not be affordable or accessible to most small businesses and startups.

Onsite representation by Commerce’s foreign representatives at virtual and “hybrid” trade shows via video conferencing booths connect Washington small businesses with potential partners, buyers, distributors and investors.

Commerce’s small business export assistance programs have helped hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses grow through exporting and international partnerships.

One of the most successful is the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). Washington received a $1.35 million STEP grant this year from the US Small Business Administration — the only state to receive the maximum award available. Since inception, Washington state has consistently outperformed all other states and is a model for other successful state export assistance programs.

Nearly 1,000 unique small businesses around the state have benefited from STEP-funded support since the program’s inception through the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. They have achieved over $760 million in sales, creating an estimated return on investment of nearly 100:1.

“The STEP Grant voucher program has allowed Silicon Forest Electronics to play on the world stage of aviation. The grant created an affordable opportunity for a small company to participate in the Farnborough and Paris International Air Shows. Neither would have been feasible without the STEP Grant support. As a result, we created an international marketing and sales presence. Our international business has increased from zero to five percent of our total revenues with many more prospects in the wings.” — Frank Nichols, CEO, Silicon Forest Electronics.

DOING BUSINESS IN A VIRTUAL WORLD

The pandemic forced Commerce to pivot to maintain the all-important connections that underpin business development and international relationship building. In addition to rethinking approaches, the shift to virtual interactions also provided an opportunity to expand outreach to rural communities and introduce more small businesses to new opportunities in exporting.

Some of these activities include:

· Virtual workshops on the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), export financing, compliance, Incoterms, international certifications and more.

· Hands-on export trainings with experts on market diversification, e-commerce and new export strategies addressing Covid-19.

· Virtual B2B matchmaking meetings, an effective way to meet and vet potential partners and customers prior to attending in-person international trade events.

· Virtual trade shows in two unique formats: Hybrid shows, facilitated by local in-country representatives, and 100% virtual trade shows. Upcoming events include “hybrids” Foodtech in June and Arab Health in June. In the purely virtual world, Hannover Messe is the world’s largest advanced manufacturing event based in Germany in April.

· Digital trade missions, official state-sanctioned events currently planned include UAE this month, with a focus on space technology, and missions to Pays de Loire, France and Jalisco, Mexico later in the spring.

Commerce’s foreign rep network has energized client outreach. Available consulting slots fill up quickly, as many businesses can’t travel and are reluctant to do virtual trade show exhibiting. For example, more than 300 executives and entrepreneurs registered for two recent virtual Japan AI meetups — multi-day agendas of B2B meetings and pitch sessions revolving around opportunities in Artificial Intelligence and related technology across industry sectors. The events provided direct visibility and interaction for 20 Washington companies.

Pandemic pivots didn’t slow down business development work

Attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is another key pillar of Commerce’s business and economic work internationally. FDI is important because it creates jobs and stimulates innovation. The United States remains the largest market for investment. Even though China attracted more inflow investment last year (2020), the U.S. has been the largest FDI destination for decades.

For Commerce, FDI projects represent over 30% of successful business development deals over the past five years and nearly 38% of all the projects Commerce supported. FDI is an important pipeline for business development, with our foreign representatives playing a key role in raising the state’s profile and attracting investment from overseas that creates jobs here in Washington. Key markets for FDI are Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Image of a story about successful recruitment of Denso, a Japanese leader in cloud computing technology and innovation in the autonomous vehicle sector. Their mobile tech lab is in Seattle.
Denso chooses Washington. The Japanese automotive powerhouse opened an office in Seattle. This $43B giant spends close to 10% of its sales on research and development. At its Seattle Mobility Lab, Denso works with local tech companies and universities on developing cloud computing technologies for automated driving.
Image of a stage presentation by one of Commerce’s in-country representatives at US Business Day in Taiwan 2020. Washington was one of 8 US states represented during the event.

Building relationships in Taiwan. U.S. Business Day, Oct 2020, was organized with support of the Taiwanese Ministry of Economic Affairs and the American Institute in Taiwan. Washington was one of eight U.S. states represented on site. Our participation generated over 100 attendees and 18 leads. Commerce Director Lisa Brown provided a video greeting.

Image of an article published in Korean in Solar Today magazine featuring an interview with Commerce’s Clean Tech Sector Lead Brian Young during a trade mission to Korea.
An Interview with Brian Young, Governor’s Clean Energy Sector Lead, was published in Solar Today, detailing and titled “100% Clean Energy and Solar Opportunities in the State of Washington.”

To learn more about Commerce’s Small Business Export Assistance and International Trade programs and services, visit Small Business Export Assistance. For a list of upcoming trade shows and trainings, visit and International Trade programs and services, visit our Event Calendar.

Washington State Department of Commerce official news and information. Our mission is to strengthen communities in our state.

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