Exporting provides Wisconsin manufacturers and other businesses with major opportunities for business growth and diversification, Gov. Scott Walker and Briggs & Stratton chief executive officer Todd Teske told a crowd of business leaders that recently gathered for the Wisconsin International Trade Conference in Milwaukee.
“Exports provide a tremendous opportunity,” Walker said. “Wisconsin has about $22.5 billion worth of exports around the world to more than 200 countries and we see a tremendous opportunity going forward.”
Wisconsin companies exported just less than $22.5 billion worth of goods and services to other countries in 2015, a drop of 4.2 percent from the previous year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state ranked 20th in the nation in exports.
Despite the decline, Wisconsin fared better than many other states and boosted exports to certain key markets, including Mexico, Walker said.
Non-traditional export markets, such as Saudi Arabia, also provide opportunities for Wisconsin companies, he said.
“Global activities have an impact and Saudi Arabia moved up on that list. It’s now in the top 10,” Walker said. “(Saudi Arabia) ordered a whole lot of military equipment, much of which is made right here in Wisconsin. You can see how things that happen around the world influence things in terms of exports and what happens in terms of direct foreign investment.”
More than 95 percent of world’s population is outside of the United States and 80 percent of the economic growth over the next decade is projected to happen outside of the country, creating fertile ground for exports, Walker said.
“Whether you are in manufacturing, or agriculture or involved in IT or water technology or energy, there are tremendous opportunities,” he said.
As part of the effort to boost Wisconsin exports and attract direct foreign investment to the state, Walker will lead a trade mission to Mexico June 12-17. The trade mission is a joint effort of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).
Wisconsin companies exported nearly $3 billion in goods to Mexico in 2015, making it the second-largest export destination. Canada is the state’s No. 1 export market at about $7 billion.
“We think it’s an exciting opportunity both for those that have established business opportunities there and for those who might be looking to have their first opportunities in Mexico,” Walker said of the mission.
For Wisconsin companies looking to sell their products in foreign markets, Walker touted ExporTech, a customized, action-oriented export expansion strategy program, which is coordinated through the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the University of Wisconsin-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center in conjunction with the WEDC.
“ExporTech is one of those great partnerships we have, so certainly we can help,” Walker said.
ExporTech takes a group of up to eight leaders from non-competing companies who take part in three full-day events scheduled approximately one month apart. Participants learn how exports can dramatically drive growth, identify hurdles to expansion, and develop a customized international growth plan.
ExporTech graduates have achieved sales increases averaging $900,000 within six to nine months after completing the program.
“What we have found is that companies that export not only do better but their wages are higher and their opportunities are greater,” Walker said.
Walker presented a trio of Wisconsin companies – Hydro-Thermal Corp., Waukesha; H.O. Bostrom Co., Waukesha; and Ever-Green-View Farms LLC, Waldo – with the 2016 Governor’s Export Achievement Award, which recognizes their success in global business development.
“These three businesses exemplify the type of success that many Wisconsin businesses are achieving by entering or expanding in overseas markets,” Walker said.
The awards honor businesses that have achieved significant growth or implemented innovative strategies in exporting.
Hydro-Thermal, which develops and manufactures Hydroheaters used in numerous industries to heat water and process fluids precisely and efficiently, is a graduate of the ExporTech program.
“It is an ever-evolving challenge to cultivate growth internationally, and our staff consistently and enthusiastically welcomes the opportunity,” Hydro-Thermal president and CEO Jim Zaiser said.
About 30 percent of Hydro-Thermal’s business is in foreign markets, he pointed out.
Hydro-Thermal attended ExporTech for the first time in 2015, having exported successfully since 2000, said Roxanne Baumann, director of global engagement for the WMEP.
“This is a classic case of a small manufacturer that had several awards for their export expansion but came to ExporTech to broaden that knowledge and develop an export expansion plan with a wider engagement of the leadership team.”
The honored companies are an example “of what exporting can do for your business, both short-term and long-term,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
International trade has played a significant role in the success of Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton, which manufactures small engines and outdoor power equipment.
“We shouldn’t shy away from global trade. We should embrace it,” said Todd Teske, the company’s chairman, president and CEO, a keynote speaker at the conference.
In speaking to conference attendees, Teske offered a history lesson, of sorts, on the growing importance of global trade over the past three decades. He pointed specifically to the start of the 1990s, when China began participating in global trade and the toppling of the Berlin Wall, which opened up Eastern Europe.
“That has had a profound effect on Briggs & Stratton,” he said. “It created new and different markets along the way.
In 1990, U.S. exports totaled $535 million. Last year, that figure had climbed to $2.2 trillion, Teske noted.
“It’s a big deal. As these markets opened up, it created opportunities,” Teske said. “There were new and different markets. It also created opportunities for people overseas to ship into the United States. It changed our country profoundly.”