Making Global Local – St. Louis Aiming to be Gateway of Opportunity

1-22-13 Industry Week
by Adrienne Selko

In 2011, Missouri’s trade with China grew 18%.

A successful strategic plan often calls for determining areas of strength and building upon it. That’s exactly what St. Louis is doing based on the state’s strong record of trade with China.

In 2011, Missouri’s  trade with China grew 18%. In 2010 growth was even stronger increasing  44%.

The growth in 2011 was valued at $1.2 billion, with copper scrap, fan parts, lead ores, aluminum scrap, and semiconductor devices among China’s most demanded Missouri commodities.

Exports translate directly into jobs. Since 2010, 21% percent of Missouri’s total employment, or 774,300 jobs can be tied to trade-supported jobs.

Part of the job growth was brought about due to programs and initiatives created by the World Trade Center of St. Louis. This group is focusing on ways to keep the momentum going.

“By offering to become a freight hub for China, St. Louis is positioning itself as a spot for international activity,” explained Tim Nowak, executive director for the World Trade Center of St. Louis.  “The Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is set to become a Midwest hub for trade, increasing the $1 billion in goods that Missouri exports to China annually.”

Steps to ensure success include a national partnership with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. St. Louis was selected to be involved in the Making Global Local initiative. This partnership will  enable targeted reverse trade missions to St. Louis, connecting interested local companies with foreign buyers.

Trade Missions Useful Tool

“We are working with World Trade Center and its Asia Trade Desk to position St. Louis for further business opportunities in Asia through specialized training and high-level trade missions.” said Denny Coleman, CEO of the St. Louis County Economic Council.

A recent trade mission occurred last November in Hangzhou, when more than a dozen businesses and two universities participated in the 5th U.S.-China Transportation Forum, held jointly by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Chinese Ministry of Transport.

Also last year executives from Boeing, Monsanto, Emerson, Innoventor and Nestle Purina PetCare completed a trade mission to Indonesia.

Specialized training is taking the form of a new online Chancellor’s Certificate in International Trade that is being offered through the University of Missouri.

The certificate is a six-month online training program, providing participants with the opportunity to learn practical aspects of international business from experienced industry professionals.

“The goal of all of these programs is essentially to create new export opportunities,” explained Nowak. “We help companies identify markets, prepare for export readiness and ultimately become matchmakers with potential business.”

One method of assistance, Nowak explained, was helping companies who are already successfully exporting to Mexico or Canada and providing the tools necessary to export to China. Sometimes assistance  takes the form of educating companies about the nuances of doing business in other locations. One in particular that often discourages companies from exporting to China is the length of the process.  “Things take longer. Companies need to adjust to that.  And traveling to China one time won’t lead to immediate success.  There must be a commitment of  time and effort in order to develop these connections.”

The Asia Desk views itself as the center point of contact with other government agencies as well and can help companies find the information they need and sometimes act on their behalf.

“Now more than ever the financial balance of any company is going to rely on a strategic approach to global markets,” said Nowak. “Large companies found out that those investments have often saved the day. For the health of a company there is every reason, in spite of many hurdles, to expand exports. For the St. Louis market there is enough data that says we have to help companies take advantage of global opportunities.”

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