News Column

A Helping Hand for Small Businesses Wanting To Export

Feb. 2, 2012

Matt Glynn

The push for increased U.S. exports happens in big-picture terms, with talk of promoting billions of dollars in international trade.

But it also happens in small-picture settings, like Advanced Machine Design in Buffalo, N.Y., figuring out how to ramp up its overseas sales.

The manufacturer of presses and similar equipment employs 30 people. If it can overcome financial obstacles to exporting and minimize risk, the company believes it can bolster its sales and ultimately hire more employees.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States wants to help those types of deals come to fruition, said Thomas P. Cummings, regional director of the bank. He visited Advanced Machine Design and some other local companies this week.

"Our goal is to support the small business, and there's no deal [that] is too small, whatever we can try to do to make their deal work," Cummings said.

The Washington, D.C.-based Ex- Im Bank is the official export credit agency of the United States, helping finance the export of U.S. goods and services to foreign markets. Cummings is based in New York City, one of the bank's regional offices.

Advanced Machine was founded in 1972. It moved from Cleveland to Buffalo in 1990, into a 100,000- square-foot plant in the former Worthington Compressor complex on Roberts Avenue, south of Clinton Street.

The company recognizes the need to expand its sales beyond the domestic market in order to grow, said Steve Idziur, senior project manager and a co-owner of the business. He declined to disclose annual sales figures.

"We've been actually pretty successful for the past few years," Idziur told Cummings. "We're pretty successful, but we need the next step."

India is one market the company has its sights on. Cummings said that idea made sense, noting the Ex-Im Bank's chairman is "expecting it to be our biggest market this year."

But one challenge many businesses like Advanced Machine face with exporting is the terms of the deals, which can place an up-front financial burden on the exporter. And if the would-be exporter is unwilling to accept the terms, the customer will find a supplier elsewhere who will.

One of the Ex-Im Bank's roles is to help fill gaps in trade financing, in-

stead of competing with private sector lenders, Cummings said. The buyers sometimes don't have the money to complete a deal, or they might have the money but don't want to spend it.

Products such as export credit insurance can make the difference between a deal going forward or being scuttled, with exporters or their banks wary of not getting paid.

Last year, the Ex-Im Bank exceeded $32 billion in financing, its third straight record-high year. The bank's chairman estimates 85 percent of its transactions directly benefit small businesses.

Locally, the Ex-Im Bank partners with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. Maryann Stein, the ECIDA's director of international programs, said the ECIDA has the local business contacts to help the Ex-Im Bank reach a broader audience.

Manufacturers were not the only scheduled stops on Cummings' Buffalo trip. Cummings was among the speakers at an exporting seminar Wednesday, and he and Stein were also planning to meet with representatives of Five Star Bank.

"They're more interested in getting into international business, because they're finding that their commercial customers have a need for that," Stein said. "So there's that learning curve there, that they need to find out what programs are available so that they would be able to offer them, as well. They are a necessary component to Ex- Im programs."

Cummings said he has talked to a wide range of businesses in his job, from makers of chewing gum to producers of sophisticated medical equipment. Part of his task is to help them come up with an exporting solution. "Sometimes, you go in and they say, 'Here's what I need,' and after you listen to them you say, 'Let's talk about a couple of different options, we have a couple of different things we can do here,' " he said.

Idziur said he thinks what Ex-Im has to offer sounds promising for Advanced Machine's plans.

"It's something that we have to do to grow," he said. "We can work hard to get the orders, but unless we get the funding, we can't put the product out the door. The program sounds like it fits; hopefully it will work out."

Source: (c) 2012 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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