March 10, 2014

Small Business Administration workshop to focus on Merced County exports

The Small Business Administration plans a workshop next week in Merced, the intent of which is to get Merced County business owners thinking about exporting their products.

Packing up products for shipment overseas or offering services to places around the globe is not just for conglomerates. Experts in international trade say small-business owners in Merced County can do it too.

“I think most business owners think that exporting is something very exotic and difficult, and they don’t realize there is a tremendous amount of free assistance available from the federal government,” said Dawn Golik, deputy district director for the Small Business Administration.

Federal and local exporting officials plan to provide information on export loan programs, finding customers, technical assistance and marketing programs for exporting, among other programs, during a workshop March 18 at Merced College.

Golik said exporting can be a good solution for owners who have outgrown their customer base, because American products are often popular. “Where do you go if you need more customers?” she said. “The answer for many of those businesses is you go to another country.”

As the co-owner of a Merced small business that has taken advantage of SBA export expertise, Bob Randolph said he is always looking for new customers, and that today about 10 percent of his money is made internationally. The president of Soil Stabilization Products Co. sells alternatives to asphalt, which can be made from a number of different types of stone.

The company, which was founded under a different name about 30 years ago, recently put in the foundation for a railroad in Brazil.

“Central and South America are so far behind us in their transportation infrastructure,” Randolph said of the demand for U.S. products. “They’re basically just getting rolling. They’re just beginning to develop their transportation networks.”

The product he sells is better for the environment, Randolph said, stays cooler than asphalt and can give the buyer a different look from that of asphalt. The company, which employs 10, has sold the product to national parks and cities in the United States.

Besides Brazil, the company has also made some headway into Europe, Africa and Asia, Randolph said. “Our primary market is domestic, but we’re very interested in international,” he said.

International sales are more time-consuming because of the added shipping, exchange rates and customs, Randolph said, but the SBA has the expertise needed to help.

On the other end of the spectrum is the business owned by Keith Ensminger and his wife, Marisa. Unlike Soil Stabilization Products, Kramer Translation of Merced does a large portion of its business with foreign customers, or domestic businesses that want to reach foreign customers.

Ensminger said he takes brochures or fliers in English and translates them into foreign languages and vice versa. The company has been in Merced since 1995. “With the Internet, our business model is basically online,” he said. “We have clients all over the place.”

The SBA benefited him, he said, through a number of classes on skills a business owner needs, such as bookkeeping. It has also helped him meet new clients.

Golik said exporting can be as simple as trucking products north to Canada or or south to Mexico, or business owners can go farther and do more.

Many agricultural products from the region are also moved overseas. Farmers in Merced County ship 26 different crops to 77 countries around the world, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The SBA hopes to benefit other business owners in Merced with a free three-hour workshop for those who want to learn how to start exporting or expand current exports.

It will be held at 1:30 p.m. March 18 in the Merced College Business Resource Center, 630 W. 19th St. Parking is free in the first floor of the garage next to the center. To RSVP, call (559) 487-5791 or email fresno@sba.gov.

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