By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington Small Business Development Center
MOSES LAKE, Wash. – Eastern Washington business owners with products ranging from hard cider to alfalfa embarked April 14 on a seven-day trade mission to South Korea, Hong Kong and China.
The trip is being organized by Vern Jenkins, an international trade specialist with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and his colleague, Allan Peterson, an SBDC business advisor in Moses Lake. This is the third international trade mission Peterson and Jenkins have organized in collaboration with the Grant County Economic Development Council as part of ongoing efforts to assist rural small business owners who want to start or expand their export strategy.
According to Peterson, each business owner is scheduled to meet with 3-4 buyers in each of four cities (Seoul, Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau) who have expressed an interest in what they are selling. The meetings have been arranged with the assistance of Danny Kim at the Washington Department of Agriculture and staff at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in the participating countries.
Kate Moon, international sales manager at Stone Wings, an Ellensburg-based manufacturer of compressed hay, said she sees this trade mission as part of her initial efforts to build business-to-business relationships with overseas buyers. Her company has been exporting hay products to countries including Kuwait, Japan, China and Korea for several years, she said, but they’ve always worked through a broker. By working directly with buyers, she said, her company will have a much better understanding of what their customers need and how to best provide it.
Moon, who speaks Korean and Japanese, said she attempted to set up her own business to business meetings with Korean buyers when she was in South Korea recently, but without anyone to make introductions or provide references she couldn’t get in the door.
As part of a trade mission, she said, participants have credibility that they wouldn’t otherwise have, she said. “That helps open the doors.”
Teri Delany, CEO of Flour Farm, is going on her first trade mission with her partner and company vice president Dave DuPre. Flour Farm sells a gluten-free flour developed by Delany in 2015.
Early on, she said, she and DuPre focused exclusively on domestic sales and considered opening a bakery, but after working with Jenkins and the Washington SBDC, they decided to put the bakery on hold and vigorously pursue export sales. Currently they are exporting to Japan, Norway, Singapore and Australia with the help of a broker.
Delany said she is looking forward to developing business-to-business relationships as well. As a former special education teacher, she said, she knows that the first step is making an authentic connection and then everything else builds from there. “That’s where it all starts,” she said. “It starts with relationships.”
Jenkins and Peterson have seen that first-hand. This is the third trade mission they’ve organized to Korea and it all started when Peterson saw an opportunity to expand on a longstanding Sister City relationship that Grant County had with GunPo, South Korea. A cultural visit to Moses Lake in 2016 expanded to include business-to-business meetings, and since then more than 30 businesses have participated in export discussions.
As in previous outbound trade missions, participants were eligible for $1,500 STEP grants from the Washington Department of Commerce to defray the cost of travel.
The Washington SBDC is a network of more than two dozen certified business advisors and two international trade specialists who help small business owners start, grow or transition a business. The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and is supported by the US Small Business Administration.
For more about the Washington SBDC, go to http://wsbdc.org
- Hope Belli Tinney: 509-432-8254 firstname.lastname@example.org