In an effort to help small businesses increase their exports, the National Export Initiative kicked off its 11-month tour Thursday at the McNamara Alumni Center.
The tour is a part of the President Barack Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years to create more jobs, especially among small- and medium-sized businesses that have shown a strong potential for growth.
“Your competitors are no longer just in Madison or Chicago or Indianapolis,” U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “They’re in places like Shanghai, Bangkok, Mumbai or Sao Paulo. And these companies want to eat your lunch.”
At the conference, companies were given resources on how to sell their products abroad, take advantage of opportunities in Canada, Mexico and China and learn more about export financing tools available in Minnesota.
Commerce Director of Public Affairs Kevin Griffis said the initiative chose Minneapolis to launch its tour because of its “vibrant” business community with commercial giants like Target and 3M.
The groups targeted in the presentation weren’t the larger companies, Griffis said, but rather the smaller businesses used in those companies’ supply chains — companies that may have the ability to export, but are without the resources larger companies have.
“The simple fact is, the more companies export, the more they produce,” Locke said. “And the more they produce, the more workers they need. And that means jobs, good-paying jobs.”
Exports have been a key driver to economic recovery, growing nearly 17 percent in 2010, Locke said.
Minneapolis-St. Paul is ranked the fourth largest exporting metropolitan area, largely because of its exporting relationship with Canada.
Additionally, the initiative chose to meet on the University of Minnesota campus to call attention to the need to produce more internationally prepared business students, which Griffis said is lacking.
Using this as an opportunity to pitch his STEP UP summer jobs program, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak encouraged the audience to begin hiring more “culturally competent” students who may not have any business experience but know one than one language like the Somali or Hmong youth in the community.
He also encouraged the businesses to connect with the international students at the University to create new relationships. Often these relationships can hurdle over the kinds barriers that otherwise prevent partnerships, Rybak said.
“Our Universities here are a huge resource, and we have to do more to dig into those issues and bring up those markets,” Rybak said.
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