Participation by small and medium-sized companies in international trade will be one of the most important business stories over the next five years.
Without question, the world has become a smaller place. International markets are enormous, with current market penetration rates generally very low. Once-distant markets are now much more accessible to Southwest Washington companies.
To take advantage of these opportunities, Gov. Jay Inslee has made trade promotion a strategic priority. In addition to organizing trade missions to Asia and Europe, the governor has hosted several high-level trade delegations from foreign countries. The state Department of Commerce has been assertive in working with aerospace, manufacturing, life science, technology and other companies in developing new markets.
The Department of Agriculture has likewise been working to dramatically increase agricultural exports. The state is also partnering creatively with private organizations such as the Trade Development Alliance of Seattle and the various ports across the state to pursue new export opportunities.
Three basic changes have opened up the global market place to small and medium sized companies.
First is logistics and global distribution. Today you can ship pears from Wenatchee to Shanghai, China, just as fast as you can get a ship to our local Fred Meyer store. That is why Washington can sell hay to the Middle East.
The second change is in online ordering and Internet-based marketing. With direct market placement through services like Alibaba and Amazon, a small Washington winery can sell wine by the case in Asian markets and no longer by the pallet as distributors demanded in the past.
Micro targeting of consumers based on Internet usage also is identifying and creating significant niche markets around the world, particularly for high-value products.
The third change relates to evolving regulations. Many of the regulatory and trade barriers of the past have been lessened or eliminated. Market access, though still often challenging, has never been faster or easier. Internet-based direct sales often bypass the existing complex and multilayer traditional distribution systems that are hampered by stricter regulations. This allows companies like TMall to get seafood from the Washington pier directly to the home of the Chinese consumer.
The global marketplace benefits more than manufacturers and agricultural producers.
Services companies, engineering and architectural firms, educational institutions, retailers, the travel industry, software companies, and health care providers are all growing their business through overseas relationships.
The “Washington brand” has significant presence around the world. Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Costco are some of the best-recognized companies in the world. Our wines and agricultural products are widely known and highly valued. We are viewed as global leaders in technology, retail, health care, education and philanthropy.
Can Southwest Washington realistically compete in the global marketplace? Dozens of local companies are selling products and services to international customers. Columbia Machine, with customers in more than 100 countries, is a great example.
In the technology arena we have numerous local examples of overseas investments in our area that result in product exports globally. WSU Vancouver and Clark College are effectively marketing educational opportunities to students from several countries.
It is also important to mention that overseas investors are increasingly looking to start and acquire businesses here. Federal initiatives such as the EB5 program create incentives for foreign nationals to invest in the U.S., and regional attributes such as low cost, reliable power, lifestyle amenities and access to markets make Washington very attractive to potential investors.
While I am very excited about the prospect for our large companies on the global stage, I am even more optimistic about what small and medium enterprises will be able to do. The world has changed over the past decade, and smart entrepreneurs have amazing opportunities ahead on the world stage.
Schuyler Hoss is Gov. Jay Inslee’s regional representative for Southwest Washington and the governor’s Director of International Relations and Protocol.