Tennessee expands trade presence

New international export offices to help smaller businesses

Determined to boost the number of Tennessee’s small and medium-sized businesses that export goods and services to foreign countries, state officials on Monday announced a new strategy to expand efforts in those markets.

Gov. Bill Haslam and state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty launched the ECD’s International Division, which features export development offices in Heidelberg, London, Mexico City and Shanghai.

In addition, the ECD has established export recruitment offices in Düsseldorf, London, Tokyo and Toronto. The plan marks the first time since 1997 that Tennessee has established foreign offices that are devoted to the state’s export trade.

“This is a new division that will promote foreign direct investments in Tennessee and expand the number of small and medium-sized companies here that export their products to other countries,” said Samar Ali, ECD assistant commissioner for international affairs. “Most of the companies in Tennessee involved in exports are large businesses with established legal departments that guide them through these practices, but most smaller companies don’t have access to those kind of resources. With this program, they will.”

The strategy is a proactive approach to boosting exports and also to attracting global companies to locate here, Ali said. Currently, there are 834 Tennessee companies that are U.S. subsidiaries of global corporations, employing more than 110,000 workers. And state exports have tripled in the last decade, with more than 6,400 state businesses counting more than 80,000 workers selling in excess of $30 billion of Tennessee products in 2011.

“With FedEx, we’ve got the largest cargo airport in the nation located right here in Memphis, and the foreign exchange rate is working in our favor,” Ali said. “Tennessee products on a large scale are competitive internationally and we believe we’re on excellent footing.”

That adds up to the Volunteer State’s growing presence in global markets, with Tennessee coming in at number 14 on the nation’s list of top exporting states.

“Almost 20 percent of all Tennessee workers depend on the manufacture and sale of exported goods for their jobs,” Haslam said. “Tennessee-made goods are known the world over for their quality and dependability, and a new export strategy will continue to help us meet our goal of becoming the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.”

Added Hagerty, “When facing an uncertain global economy, it is imperative that Tennessee businesses take steps to access both untapped markets and those exhibiting an increase in purchasing power due to fluctuating currency rates. The state’s economy is more connected to the global economy than ever before, and we are excited to roll out new initiatives to help educate and open doors for Tennessee companies.”

To answer questions from area entrepreneurs and business owners interested in learning more about exporting, the ECD will host a public forum at the Greater Memphis Chamber on Wednesday to explain the new strategy. Details will also be available about a trade mission in May to Africa, as well as information on upcoming webinars devoted to trade efforts in China and India.

The event is open to the public, but seating is limited and reservations are required. To sign up, contact Hayley Hovious at Hayley.hovious@tn.gov.

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