Beyond the borders

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  • | 12:00 p.m. March 28, 2011
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by Karen Brune Mathis

Managing Editor

If you think doing business in the United States is difficult, you might not be cut out to do it beyond the borders.

That would be a shame because U.S. goods are in demand by many parts of the world, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce executive.

Considering that 75 percent of the world’s purchasing power and 95 percent of the world’s population is outside the United States, reluctance to sell there is also an unnecessary loss of business.

That’s part of the message that Jorge Arce, director of the U.S. Commercial Service of the Commerce Department, said Friday he plans to share tomorrow with the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville in a speech titled “Global Markets and International Trade.”

“Companies doing business internationally are doing well,” said Arce, housed at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce Downtown.

Yet, he said just 600,000, or about 2 percent, of the nation’s 28 million businesses are exporting their goods, at least according to the numbers that can be tracked.

Arce contends that increasing that by just 1 percentage point would expand exporting to more than 200,000 more companies, and create jobs as a result.

Why don’t more U.S. companies export?

“I’ve been doing this 15 years,” Arce said Friday. “Fear and ignorance.”

He said the ignorance is of the business possibilities in other countries and the fear is based on what’s shown in the media.

Regarding fear, Arce compares the views by Americans of some countries to the views of Americans by those in other countries.

He said Americans are often shown internationally as violent, based on stories such as the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Regarding ignorance of business possibilities, Arce said U.S. companies tend to be more comfortable looking within the borders rather than beyond. They also tend to consider exporting to be to a country as a whole rather than to an individual customer.

“You don’t sell to a country,” he said. “You sell to a customer who happens to be in another country.”

Arce said that the goods exported by the United States are widely considered reliable and that U.S. companies also are known for their customer service and honesty as well as producing quality goods of cutting-edge technology.

Of course, that’s not the way some Americans see it, he notes.

“As consumers, we’re very demanding. We want it right and we want it now,” he said.

“We want customer service 24/7,” he said, explaining that’s one reason that call centers operate internationally. He said some large companies operate call centers in time zones that roll from New York to Eastern Europe to Asia to the West Coast to accommodate the constant demand for customer service.

“U.S. customer service is the best in the world, bar none,” said Arce.

He said if U.S. companies can withstand the scrutiny and demands of U.S. customers, they certainly can do business overseas.

“We are demanding as a culture. We are never satisfied. That is just the way we are,” he said. For example, if someone gives a 100 percent effort, he or she is asked, why didn’t you give 110 percent?

“We want convenience. We want it to work every day at all times. We expect it,” he said.

“If a United States company can survive or meet most of those expectations, they can be successful overseas.”

Arce said that U.S. companies don’t want to compete on price against companies in countries like China. But he said U.S. goods are known for quality, service and support, and it’s understood worldwide “that doesn’t come cheap.”

“You don’t have to convince somebody to buy an American product,” he said. “They know it is quality and they know it will cost more.”

But with 98 percent of U.S. companies not involved in international trade, at least those that are tracked, there’s abundant opportunity, he said.

For example, he said some statistics aren’t measured, such as an architect selling a $15,000 design by email to an international client.

Arce said that he can assist businesses who want information about doing business overseas, but they need to make the effort to follow through.

“If you can’t figure it out in the United States, the easiest place to do business, you are not going to survive” overseas, he said.

Arce said international business “is a people business, a relationship business.”

He said there are five groups of people and businesses in the United States who appear to have an easier time with it: Immigrants; the children of immigrants; people who have lived abroad or have traveled extensively; people who have closely worked or been exposed to international business people; and “enlightened” Americans, who are familiar with U.S. and Florida exports.

Arce said people who want to do business internationally should be aware that in the United States, consumers tend to trust systems, and not necessarily people.

Consumers trust that the online payment system will work and that the brand will be of high quality. In other words, U.S. consumers rely on the apparatus.

Overseas, he said, it’s the opposite. People do business with other people and rely on them, not the system.

“International business is personal,” he said. “They’re friends. That’s how you get them to navigate” the way business is done there.

Arce said that companies interested in exporting can find information from several sources, including:

• The U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Visit

• Enterprise Florida. Visit

• The American Chambers of Commerce. Visit

• The World Trade Centers Association. Visit

• The Bi-National Chambers of Commerce. The Association of

Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Florida website is

• Consultants.

Arce said that the U.S. Commercial Service has offices in more than 80 countries who can help, but also advised that companies interested in international business might not want to try a market where there is no Department of Commerce representative.

He said the other organizations also have offices and centers overseas.

Arce is scheduled to speak at lunch to the Economic Roundtable at the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business. For information, visit

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