As U.S. markets continue their slow crawl toward recovery, local businesses looking to expand sales should consider setting their sights overseas.
Business experts from the government and private sectors told a group of almost 20 Durango businesses to look at exports during the Southwest Colorado International Trade Conference in late November.
Though the number of Durango-area businesses that are exporting remains small, conference presenters said the opportunities are vast for those looking to expand into foreign markets.
When you look at the world economy, a lot of other countries are coming back faster than we are, so the opportunity to sell to them is even greater, said Joe Keck, director of the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, which hosted the conference.
Exporting also broadens a companys customer base, said Sandra Necessary, a director and international trade specialist with the U.S. Commercial Service.
It is estimated that 96 percent of the worlds customers live outside the United States, Necessary said.
But for small companies especially, Necessary and Keck said its hard to break into exporting. It can be a costly endeavor, has high risks and usually involves a steep learning curve. The maze of trade regulations and foreign market demands can be difficult to navigate.
The key to successful exporting, they said, is to take advantage of the growing number of resources for small businesses.
Government agencies like the U.S. Commercial Service and the Colorado International Trade Office provide research about foreign markets and can help businesses find potential clients, Necessary said.
The Small Business Administration provides special financing for exporters and other private agencies that connect businesses to worldwide networks, Keck said.
The resources are there, he said, and the areas businesses could be exporting more.
Business owners at the conference were in various stages of incorporating exporting into their business model.
Jennifer Burgstahler, chief financial officer at Steamworks Brewing Co., said the company is not thinking about selling its beers overseas yet but is keeping the option on its radar.
For businesses already doing it, exporting has added a new dimension to their sales.
Carolyn Lamb, co-owner of Rickys Lucky Nuts, said they figured the extra work of exporting to Australia, the Philippines and Canada was worth the increase in sales the company expects.
We decided that the opportunities were too great to pass up, Lamb said.
She said U.S. Commercial Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture websites tipped her off to country-specific shipping requirements that she wouldnt have known about otherwise.
For Chinook Medical Gear, gaining clients in other countries helped the company balance its sales schedule, said Heather Liggett, the companys director of sales and marketing. Governments are some of the companys biggest clients, so selling to different governments with different budget cycles helps balance the ebbs and flows of their purchasing patterns, she said.
Though exports make up about a quarter of current sales, Ligget said the company is seeing clear growth in the area.
Were just on the cusp of breaking through into more markets as we figure out ins and outs of documentation requirements, Liggett said.
Beyond the advantages for individual businesses, exporting also benefits Durangos economy as a whole, Keck said.
Our chances of building our economy here are much better not just depending on people who live here to buy goods and services, he said. Companies that sell outside our area bring dollars back here.