Manufacturing leaders say it’s a mistake to ignore the global market

By Rich Rovito, WMEP industry reporter

Explosive economic growth in other parts of the world has presented an opportunity for Wisconsin manufacturers to boost their revenue and take advantage of a global demographic that shows that about 95 percent of consumers reside outside the United States.

But getting involved in exporting can be a nerve-racking endeavor for small and mid-size manufacturing firms. That’s where the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s ExporTechTM program, a three-session training program that helps manufacturers rapidly develop and execute a successful exporting strategy, can be of considerable benefit.

“We think of global engagement as a continuum. Exports are a journey and ExporTech is a starting point,” said Roxanne Baumann, director of global engagement for the WMEP.

Manufacturers that have graduated from the ExporTech program have achieved sales increases averaging $900,000 within six to nine months after completing the program, Baumann said.

“Exporting is so important. We’ve taken a national program here and made it our own,” said Buckley Brinkman, the WMEP’s executive director. “We’re at least two iterations ahead of the rest of the nation in what we’re able to offer. Our results show it.”

Exporting is highly important for the state’s economic growth, Brinkman said.

A group of companies that took part in the initial ExporTech program have found success exporting their products and services to markets outside the United States.

“We were already along the way in our business plan before going into China and Europe. ExporTech really helped us formalize our plan,” said Tony Cavalco, vice president of sales for A&A Manufacturing Co., a New Berlin provider of industrial products including protective covers such as accordion-type bellows, covers for rails and ways, fabric and metal roll up covers, roll up doors, cable and hose carrier systems, and friction slip clutches.

Rick Kettler, president and chief operating officer of the Wagner Cos., a Milwaukee manufacturer of handrail and railing components and systems, said the company came away from ExporTech with a plan to attack exporting opportunities in England, Germany, Australia and Canada.

Participants in the program know that exporting comes with a variety of challenges, including cultural and language issues that must be addressed. Companies also must decide whether to use a distributor in foreign markets.

Successful companies are tapping into new markets with a customized export expansion strategy.

“It’s a different world out there, but we’ve got to be there,” said Neil Karolek, president of TLX Technologies, a Waukesha manufacturer of custom solenoids that has about $8 million in annual sales. “If we don’t do it, we will hit a limit of $10 million to $15 million (in sales) in the United States and we aren’t going to grow any more. There are enough solenoid companies in the U.S. that are saturating the market.”

An informative session on exporting is among the offerings at the upcoming Manufacturing Matters! Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Milwaukee on Feb. 28. Baumann will moderate a panel that will include: Kettler; Roger Bensinger, executive vice president of business development at Prolitec Inc., Milwaukee; Terry Radtke, former international sales director for Greenheck Fan Corp., Schofield; and Lora Klenke, vice president of international business development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Session participants will learn where products might have a market and which markets are worthwhile; pertinent regulations; and how to simplify logistics.

Upcoming ExporTech sessions will be held in Appleton, Madison, Rhinelander and the Stevens Point area.