by Joel Addington
The name of the meeting says it all.
“We’re calling it a Gut Check session,” said Cathy Hagan of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Center, the agency that’s hoping to help small businesses take the leap into international trade.
The free meeting slated for Nov. 16 is the last chance for business owners to register for the six-week “International Trade Certificate Program - Export Series” before classes start in January.
Since the first informational meeting held last month, Hagan said only a few businesses have registered and another 10 or so have shown interest in the $295 program.
This month’s meeting will be the orientation for interested businesses owners, who organizers stress should have established profitable businesses they’re looking to grow.
“It’s kind of a sales pitch,” said Hagan. “We hope that those really interested will show up and register.”
At least one business owner, Leslie Smith of C&L Landscape, Irrigation and Building, needs no convincing.
“We’re definitely looking into exporting heavy equipment,” he said. “We see the opportunity because we go through so much equipment.”
Smith started his company in 1983 and does landscaping for a number of high-profile properties including Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, JEA and Jacksonville International Airport.
Exporting heavy equipment to foreign countries is where he wants to grow his business in the future.
“Both my boys are majoring in business and minoring in logistics, which is trucking and shipping and things,” said Smith. “Hopefully, they will let me retire.”
With what he learns in the export series, Smith hopes to start shipping things like front end loaders, bulldozers and tractors by the end of 2008.
Where he will ship them is a question Smith wants the U.S. government to help answer.
“The layman contractor doesn’t really know where to start,” he said.
After completing the program, business owners can contact the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Division of Commercial Services to put what they’ve learned into action.
Jorge Arce, director of the division’s U.S. Export Assistance Center, said he can help businesses identify the appropriate market for their product or service and provide background checks and contact information on foreign buyers.
“We have offices in 165 cities in 80 countries,” he said. “I can call the office in Lima (Peru) and say I need a list of distributors for this particular product. But you as a company have to know how to sell it to the foreigner.”
Arce said he doesn’t understand why more American businesses don’t look to overseas trade.
“The Dominican Republic is closer to us than New York and cheaper to ship to,” he said. “So why don’t we think about shipping to these places?”
Typically, he said, it’s the immigrant business owners or first generation Americans that, “have the vision that there’s a whole world out there.”
Furthermore, foreign buyers are willing to pay top-dollar — sometimes spending more on shipping than the product itself — to obtain quality, American-made goods.
That’s something Smith is counting on.
“We’re going to stick with this thing and do whatever it takes,” he said.
The export series came together with the partnering of the Beaver Street Enterprise Center, the University of North Florida’s Small Business Development Center, Jacksonville Port Authority and the Chamber.
“We want these opportunities as far as growth in economic activity to benefit our home-grown businesses,” said Port Director of Communication Nancy Rubin.
The “Gut Check” session is Nov. 16 from 8-9 a.m. at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce Small Business Center, 5000 Norwood Ave., Suite 3. To RSVP, call 924-1100.
For more information about the International Trade Certificate Program, call Cathy Hagan at 620-2478.
Anyone looking for advice or direction about selling goods or services overseas should contact Jorge Arce at 232-1270.