CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia businesses travel to explore exporting, they have more chances to find new clients, increase production and hire additional employees, the CEO of a Charleston economic development group said Tuesday.The Charleston Area Alliance welcomes everyone to take part in the group's trade mission trip to northern Italy in May, said Alliance CEO Matt Ballard. This is the economic, business and community development organization's fourth trade mission. The group traveled to China its first two years and different parts of Europe -- including Prague and Hungary -- last year, Ballard said.The Alliance is hosting an informational meeting today<co Wednesday> at 5:30 p.m. at a National Travel office, 164 Court St. Charleston-based National Travel is helping organize the trip."Our state has been successful in recruiting other businesses so why not travel to promote trade, specifically exports?" Ballard said. "Our staff will use our contacts and knowledge -- we use the Department of Commerce -- to set up, literally, one-on-one business meetings."The economic development group offers two options: a business tour and a cultural tour.Ballard said travelers can choose which track to take during the trip. On previous trade missions, those on the cultural tour formed relationships with people who took the business tour and "they end up doing business with each other once they're back in Charleston," Ballard said.Last spring, about 30 people took part in the Alliance-sponsored trip to Europe.Ballard said one West Virginia business owner, a hardwood manufacturer, went on the trade mission trip last year because he wants to export West Virginia hardwood in Europe. Since that trip one year ago, the business owner has made several successful contacts, Ballard said.For the fourth trip, this time to northern Italy, a retail store in downtown Charleston is going because its owners want to export their clothing line overseas, Ballard said.He said the group has picked places to travel that will benefit business owners in the state.Going to countries like Hungary make sense for businesses because "that isn't necessarily a country everyone would think of immediately and we liked that."The group traveled to Austria, too, where they met with ambassadors, he said.From the group's first trip to China -- a "particularly obvious" choice because of their economic growth, Ballard said -- the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research and Innovation Center (MATRIC) returned with new contracts.The 20 people who took the business tour met with Chinese economic development specialists to learn about trade with China.Ballard said it is important that those interested in taking the business tour let the Charleston Area Alliance know soon so staff can start setting up meetings and researching the appropriate connections."If businesses wanted to meet with potential buyers, we would begin right now working with you to identify companies," Ballard said. "We would reach out on your behalf to set up meetings with you. It could be 15 meetings in one day if you wanted with people interested in purchasing your product."Travelers will tour the Lamborghini factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese, which is appropriate since "we have such a strong automotive industry in West Virginia," Ballard said.Travelers will also explore northern Italy to visit the town of Como in Varese, famous for Italy's finest silk production. They will walk through Florence's "food valley" to see the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and tour castles and vineyards.The total cost of the trade mission is $4099 per person for Alliance members. Nonmembers have to pay an additional $300.The prices include round-trip airfare from Charleston to Italy, most meals and four-star hotel accommodations.For more information, contact Jeri Adkins at 304-340-4253 or JAdkins@charlestonareaalliance.org.Reach Megan Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.