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Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com., brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. It's guest time on the show, and our topic once again is international expansion. In other words, exporting outside of the United States. And my guest is Steve Recob, the Director of the Houston U.S. Export Assistance Center, part of the Commerce Department. Steve, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Steve: Thank you, Russ. It's good to be with you again.
Russ: You bet. Well tell us about your mission here.
Steve: Hey, the mission that goes on and on. We are here to help U.S. companies export their goods and services globally. And that nets down to one thing; basically we're not here to help you do anything but make money, keep the jobs here in the United States, and grow the economy.
Russ: Man, it's hard to see anything wrong with that. That's pretty cool.
Steve: You know, people seem to like us, because we come to help them; we help them with their businesses and their international practices and we try to make them more money. And again, it's something very pleasant about helping people grow the economy and keeping jobs here.
Russ: Absolutely. Every time I hear about the breadth of service it just blows me away. I mean it sounds almost too good to be true. Is it too good to be true?
Steve: Well, you know, people tell us we're the best-kept secret, but we do offer a variety of services and counseling sessions to help U.S. companies do well; everything from how do I export , clear to how do I find a dealer-distributor. So we get everything from market research and trade policy and trade regulations, all those subject matters and much, much more, in addition to we help them promote their goods and services in foreign countries and help them find qualified dealers and distributors. So yes, there's a lot to comprehend in this business.
Russ: Goodness gracious. Okay, so what size of companies are your sweet spot and what size are the limits?
Steve: Well, there is no limit either way actually, but what we find out is our major focus is on small to medium-sized businesses, and those are companies that basically are incorporated already, have a pretty good domestic business - and I say pretty good; depends on what they're selling - and are ready to export, who see the markets as adding value to their present domestic situation and to grow their company even further. However, we help people from small to medium-sized all the way up to the large corporations of the world. The only difference is the questions are a little bit more esoteric at the high end than they are on, "How do I get started with exporting with the small end?"
Russ: Okay. We had your friend, Joseph Ringer, on the show with the XM Bank recently, and on the bottom end they only help companies export U.S.-manufactured goods. Is that the case here as well?
Steve: That's pretty much the same thing. Congress, when they created the charter for our organization, said, "Look, we want to help U.S. companies, therefore they must be a U.S.A. company and they must have at least 51-percent U.S. content in order for them to take advantages of our services. So that's pretty much one of the qualifiers when we first start talking to companies wanting to do exporting, do they qualify under those two principles.
Russ: Okay. Without divulging anything that's proprietary, give us an example of a company you've recently helped.
Steve: Well, you say recently. Last year the U.S. Department of Commerce through the commercial service helped 15,000 companies successfully export, so that's a big number.
Steve: But we have recently sent people to Brazil on trade shows and found partners there, we've helped other companies find partners in Africa, we've had delegations of Russian businessmen come, we've had - the other night we had to finish, the Minister of the Economy here wanting to do business with companies here in Texas. So all different sizes of companies, all different types of industries we help, from airplane, aircraft to pumps, motors, valves, clear down to retail products.
Russ: Okay. Well it sounds like it's kind of you help both ways; you help send U.S. companies on trade missions, but yet when international countries outside of the U.S. come here you kind of put them together in that environment as well?
Steve: Well, yes. And Texas is extremely desirable, because, number one is they are the number one exporter in the United States. The economy's good here, so we have lots of companies wanting to come to Houston to open up shops so they can get a piece of our market, because it's a very healthy economy.
Russ: Sure. What's not to like about Texas, or Houston for that matter?
Steve: No, it's a fantastic place.
Russ: Well, how does this market rank, you know, compared to others - other states and other cities that are exporting?
Steve: Sure. Well I'm happy to report again that the export statistics just came out and Texas is still the number one exporting state in the country. And last year - and I expect to see it again this year - Houston was the number one metropolitan area statistic, and that's something. And it's not just an accident; I mean the growth pattern here is tremendous and all of Texas Exporting should be happy, 'cause they're doing their jobs.
Russ: Yeah, and you should take credit for that, I guess.
Steve: Yeah, I would like to take credit for all of that. But we're here to contribute where we can, to help people find exporters and relationships that are good ones, that are actually qualified, so it makes it easier and gets these dollars to the bottom line to grow the economy here faster.
Russ: Now would you even help like a small company that comes to you and they say, "Steve, you know, we have this neat device," let's say it's some kind of practical medical device,' "and we want to go international." They don't have a target, you know, customer, they don't have a target market country. Would you help somebody like that?
Steve: Yes. And that's really what we're good at. We actually have what you call more of a diagram or a footprint on how you build an exporting business. And we would sit down with an individual and help them construct an export plan, we'd look at their product to make sure it's export-ready, we'd help them understand and find their key market indicators, in other words what particular attributes of their current customers could be applied through market research to determine which international market is the best, and that's where we start.
Russ: Okay. Okay.
Steve: From there we go on to how do we narrow it down to two or three countries? Maybe one if they're just starting and how do we get a successful relationship going. Once we have that footprint in place, once we've taught that to the people that come to us to help, they get it, and from then most of them just go on and replicate that over and over again.
Russ: Okay. So let's say I just came to you and you mapped out this plan and helped me and stuff. Are you charging me? Do I have to pay you?
Steve: No. We love this. There's two ways to answer that. Number one is most of what we do has been prepaid on April, I believe it is 15th.
Russ: 15th, yeah, right. Right.
Steve: Yeah, so the tax dollars at work. We are 99-percent we don't charge for anything, however, occasionally for extra services where we have to add a value overseas, in our overseas offices, where there will be a small - and I mean really small charge. Because to help individual companies Congress has told us that we have to charge if it's something special for an individual company, and that's the only time we get involved with fees.
Russ: Right. Okay. But if I was a small company and I was trying to get business into Brazil and you had a trade mission coming up you could invite me, but I still have to pay to go there, right?
Steve: Certainly the cost - the out-of-pocket cost for hotels, transportation, etcetera. If they need an interpreter, absolutely.
Russ: It's hard to find something that you have to pay for here, which is - that's cool.
Steve: Exactly. But what they get value from us is that we'll set up these prequalified meetings so when they get there they're not kicking tires; they're not wondering, "Who do I talk to?" They're there to have three to five appointments a day with a qualified partner of their description.
Russ: So you painted the picture where once they do that they've kind of got it figured out and their on their own. But do you have repeat customers?
Steve: Absolutely we do. Absolutely. Again, I mentioned earlier, as companies grow they may not come back and say, "Let's do an export plan," but they may come back and say, "Can you tell me about the tariffs in this country" or "Can you tell me about the trade laws?" or "I'm having difficulties with this country. Is there any assistance that the U.S. government can help me with in winning a bid or changing some of the regulations to be more fair?" And we do; we have those services available to help them. Again, no charge.
Russ: Okay. Okay. Now what if somebody has a product and they have a prospect that they know is in one of these unstable, unfriendly political problem areas. Do you help them there or do you help them by saying, "Don't go there?"
Steve: Well, yeah, that's a good point, because exporting's not for everybody, and if we see that the company and the individuals are not ready we will tell them. I mean I'm not going to kid them. Some people shouldn't export, and we will tell them that and we'll tell them where to go maybe to get ready to get to the point where they're exporting.
Russ: Right. Right.
Steve: But when you get into trouble countries there's lots of different ways of looking at that; are they going to go, are they going to find a partner in an adjacent country? There's lots of ways to work around problems,-
Steve: -however, if it's dangerous we certainly won't recommend they go anywhere.
Russ: Okay, Steve, let's say that somebody's watching us right now or listening to us on the radio and they're thinking, "Man, I need to take advantage of that." How do they connect with you?
Steve: Basically they can do it one of two ways; they can e-mail me directly or basically just pick up the phone and dial 713-209-3104. I know I speak fast. 713-209-3104. But a good starting point is to go up to our national website at www.export.gov. I'll say it again, www.export.gov, where they can find all the domestic offices, because we have over 100 of them across the country, and the ones here in Houston, please call us; we'd be happy to help you.
Russ: Great. Well, Steve, I really appreciate you sharing this with our audience.
Steve: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Steve Recob, the Director of the Houston U.S. Export Assistance Center, part of the Department of Commerce. And this is The BusinessMaker's Show, heard on the radio, seen online at thebusinessmakers.com, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.