Breakfast of Champions: EDC Event Offers Export Advice

From left, Viv Helwig and Jorge Arce answer questions from Scott Maynard, St. Johns Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development, at the Chamber’s Economic Development Quarterly Breakfast.

St. Johns County business leaders, entrepreneurs and officials recently gathered at the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village. They weren’t there to work on their short game but on a more important long game: exporting.

The first St. Johns Chamber’s Economic Development Council Quarterly Breakfast of 2023 was all about the export market and what it can mean for local businesses.

Chamber President and CEO Isabelle Renault kicked off the morning program providing a wider context for the focus on exporting, saying the business organization surveyed members and found the top challenge facing businesses was getting help increasing sales. For the Economic Development Council, that translates to exporting, she said.

“Exporting is not reserved for larger companies,” Renault said. “We want to de-mystify exporting.”

The breakfast program featured presentations from Jorge Arce, director and senior trade specialist with the Commerce Department’s U.S. Commercial Service in Jacksonville.

Arce was blunt in his pitch for companies to embrace the export market.

“Eighty-five percent of the world’s purchasing power is outside of the United States and growing,” he said, adding that exporting can make companies more resilient in the face of domestic economic cycles.

Echoing Renault, Arce said while most people think the export market is the preserve of large corporations, in reality nearly three-quarters of U.S. exports come from companies with fewer than 50 employees – and many have less than 20 workers.

For those business owners concerned about reaching customers outside the United States, Arce said that 70% of internet traffic in the U.S. comes from overseas users.

“The United States is a fishbowl to the world,” he said. “The world is fascinated by the United States.”

Arce said American companies have a lot of advantages competing in the global marketplace, including a reputation for high-quality products, high technology, support and customer service.

“The U.S. market is tough and very competitive,” he said. “That’s why we have world-class products.”

Beyond the opportunity to increase sales and profits, Arce said exporting offers American companies important insights into the global economy and world affairs.

“If you’re not exporting, you don’t know what’s happening on the other side of the world,” he said.

For companies considering entering the export market, Arce said one of the most important things to remember is investing the time and resources to do it right.

A nearly full house was on hand at the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village for the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council’s Quarterly Breakfast.

“International trade is a marathon,” he said. “It’s the long game, a strategic commitment.”

The necessity to stay focused when entering the export market was confirmed by the morning’s other speaker, Viv Helwig, president of Vested Metals International in St. Augustine.

Helwig said it was only after establishing the business in the domestic market that the idea of exporting began to take shape.

“We know our market and our industry had the potential to grow internationally,” he said.

Helwig outlined the steps his company took to enter the export market, including getting help from state and federal partners to navigate the process, and making sure the business was ready to take that big step.

“You have to be willing to dedicate the appropriate resources,” he said, including hiring employees with a global perspective.

Helwig also spoke of the importance of participating in government-sponsored foreign trade missions as an important consideration and recounted his experiences meeting with trade representatives.

Overall, he said getting into the export market has been a good decision for his company.

“International trade is going to be a very important market for us,” he said.