LOCAL GOODS, GLOBAL REACH: SEDA-COG program director helps firms navigate overseas commerce

By Rick Dandes Dec 7 2019 / The daily item

Noelle Long, program director, Export Development Program, SEDA-Council of Governments, talks about local companies and international business. Justin Engle/The Daily item

Once a Valley business decides to enter the global export marketplace, it needs experts like Noelle Long to help them navigate the murky, sometimes choppy waters of international customs regulations, documents, and tariffs.

Long, program director for the SEDA-Council of Governments Export Development Program, works with the state to provide services to manufacturing companies, service companies, and higher education to either start exporting products or to grow their global footprint.

The approximately 100 companies she works with in Central Pennsylvania run the gamut in size from a two-person operation, working out of a garage to a company with 400-plus employees, looking to develop and export management compliance programs.

“Every company is a little bit different,” Long said. “I work across all different industry sectors. Everything from hardwood to medical devices to consumer goods.”

When she started the job she said she had no idea how much industry there was in the Valley, let alone everything that was leaving the United States.

People are now aware that it is a global economy, she said. “Once you get a website you are automatically global. Through the power of Google, you are discoverable.” 

Sometimes companies push off the idea of international sales, Long said. Then, one day the realization of how much traffic they are getting on their website from France, Germany or Australia may click. 

“That being said, it is not an easy task to export,” Long said. “Just because it does require time and personnel capacity, financial resources, planning. Sometimes companies just fall into it. That is when I can help them.”

Most companies, she said, don’t have an export department.

“They can call me up and say ‘Hey I just got an order for X amount of units to Mexico and I have no idea what documentation I need.’ Or, ‘do I need to register my product in China before I send it there?'” she said.

“I’m helping to troubleshoot and just to make a very seamless transaction,” she said. “So as long as companies are doing their homework ahead of time and making sure that they are using the right service providers, and preparing accordingly the chances are better that it is going to be a successful transaction.”

Varying kinds of assistance

“Noelle Long at SEDA-COG has helped us,” said Jeff Ansell, shipping manager, for Pik Rite, in Lewisburg. 

A few years ago, Ansell recalled, Pik Rite sold a harvester to a farmer in Argentina.

“We did not know where to start because they wanted a sanitary certificate,” he recalled. “We never had to deal with that before. So we reached out to SEDA-COG and Noelle helped us get us into contact with the right person from the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] that knew where to start, how to set it up and what to do. She made the connection and we took it from there.” 

Long provides different levels of assistance.

Some companies, she said, know the ropes and don’t require a lot of assistance. Others require more handling because they are smaller, newer to exporting, and they like that extra assurance.

Two of those more experienced exporters are Vargo Outdoors, in Lewisburg, and Arcos Industries, in Mount Carmel.

Brian Vargo founded his hiking and camping equipment business in 2002, and said that Long, and SEDA-COG, have helped him in several ways, most notably in providing access to Pennsylvania’s international trade representatives.

“After 17 years in the business, I know how to deal with export issues, documentation,” Vargo said. “But no question it is good to have SEDA-COG here as a resource.” 

Beth Haupt, sales manager at Arcos Industries has also worked “quite a bit” with SEDA-COG and Noelle Long.

Already an experienced exporter Haupt said that being able to work with Pennsylvania’s international trade representatives “sometimes leads to new leads, new business.”

“Meeting with those trade reps gives us insight into their markets, and our competitors in those markets,” she said.

Change is constant, Long tells her clients.

Customs and general export compliance and controls change regularly.

“Even if I’ve done the research a year ago I’ll need to go back and do it again, just to make sure that things haven’t changed,” she said.

As technologies developed, products develop. The government keeps up with those changes, so there could be different product codes, there could be different export licensing requirements. And then with different sanctions and embargoes on countries that are constantly changing.

Long said she believes that Pennsylvania has the strongest trade program in the entire country.

There are 10 individuals like Long sprinkled across the commonwealth who are working locally with companies, Long said.

Long said she believes that Pennsylvania has the strongest trade program in the entire country.

“All of my services are free of charge, paid with tax dollars,” she said. The bulk of her funding, she said, comes from Harrisburg through the Office of International Business Development.

Pennsylvania also has a network of 15 authorized trade representatives around the world. These individuals are contracted by the state to provide service to Pennsylvania companies. Collectively these 15 reps cover 53 markets, Long said.

“They are boots on the ground for Pennsylvania companies. So, for example, if Pik Rite is looking for a distributor in Turkey, I am able to call up our guy who is based in Israel but covers Turkey as well. He can put together a list of prospective partners for Pik Rite. Once Pik Rite reviews those prospects they can engage our trade rep in the Middle East and he can put together a schedule of pre-arranged appointments with those prospective partners in Turkey.” 

These reps are not going to make sales for a company, but they make it easier for those companies to realize more export sales and to make those connections in countries.

Try wading through the Chinese tariff schedule.

“That’s pretty difficult,” Long said. “Or trying to figure out what customs documents are needed for a shipment to China. That is when I can engage our trade office in Shanghai and ask for help. They are at the beck and call of Pennsylvania companies and a phenomenal resource.”

The world comes to Pennsylvania

Every fall the world comes to Pennsylvania. That’s when all of Pennsylvania’s international trade reps come into the state for two weeks and they do a roadshow through Pennsylvania. The format is one-on-one meetings between the trade reps and the companies. 

It’s like speed dating for international business, Long said.

“The trade reps are stationed at their tables,” Long said. “They have a robust schedule of appointments with client companies and it is a fantastic way to sit down face to face with someone from that country who speaks the languages and understands how business is conducted. They have the contacts in countries to be able to sit down with them and say, ‘Hey, can you help me find a new distributor that will enable me to distribute in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand area?”

The roadshow is helpful to companies who are new to exporting and are trying to get their feet wet. They want to put some feelers out there, asking what is the best market for their product?’

A trade rep might also say a company might not have a chance in their market because there is plenty of that product already available there, or you won’t be able to compete from a pricing perspective. 

Who are the buyers?

China is a big receiver of Pennsylvania goods, Long said, “but we’ve seen decreases on the lumber and wood products side of things just because of the tariffs.” 

Everything ebbs and flows, Long said. “Some companies haven’t really felt any impact from the tariff issues, while others have. But exports to Canada and Mexico are always going to be key because they are our neighbors.”

Much of what Long does is educating companies so they understand a country’s requirements as an exporter.

It doesn’t matter what a company is making, they still need to comply with U.S. export laws and regulations, she said.

“They need to know who they are selling to and make sure that the product is not prohibited in the eyes of the government,” Long noted. “If they are making a component for a missile, they need to know who they are selling to and where it is going and what it is being used for.” 

Not knowing the rules, Long said, can present major problems.

“There have been companies in Pennsylvania that have gotten themselves into trouble,” she said. “They can be fined. They can lose their exporting privileges and individuals can be thrown in jail if it’s really bad. I don’t ever want those kinds of headlines for the companies I work with in this region.”

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