Exporting is a bright spot in West Virginia’s economic picture. It offers a world of opportunity to the state’s businesses.
In 2018, West Virginia exports increased for the second year in a row, reaching $8.1 billion. Official U.S. Census Bureau figures released in March show the state outpaced the national average growth rate in 2018, as West Virginia exports increased at a rate of 14.2 percent, while the nation’s exports grew at just 7.6 percent.
In 2018, West Virginia businesses exported goods and services to 142 countries.
Who would have thought thread manufactured in West Virginia decorates the colorful uniforms of the Queen’s Guard in London? Or that fine china made in the state’s northern panhandle can be found gracing the tables of homes, restaurants and hotels around the world? Log homes built in the Mountain State have made their way to Australia’s outback.
Travelers in Dubai’s airport terminal are sheltered by stretched steel formed and rolled by Mountaineer steelworkers. Commercial and private planes come to our state from around the country for precision maintenance. Hundreds of millions of car parts contain polymers developed and manufactured in West Virginia.
“To see our exports growing at almost double the national rate is truly incredible,” Gov. Jim Justice said in commenting on the Census Bureau figures. “Not only is it great news for our manufacturers who have made a home here in West Virginia and have seen their businesses grow because of it, but it is also wonderful to know that West Virginia’s products are making an impact all over the world and that everyone gets to see just how good we really are.”
Plastics, chemicals, automotive, metals, aerospace and hardwoods combined for more than $3 billion in exports from West Virginia. Notably, products and parts for the aerospace industry reported export growth at 17.8 percent over the previous year.
“This report highlights the ongoing, sustained and successful efforts in place to continue diversifying the economy in West Virginia,” said Mike Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office. “West Virginia manufacturers have proven they can deliver quality goods at a competitive price to customers located throughout the world.”
Coal continued to be the state’s primary export and led the nation, with more than $4.3 billion worth exported to 35 countries. India, Ukraine, Netherlands, Brazil and Canada were the top five export markets for West Virginia coal.
Canada remained West Virginia’s largest trading partner, with more than $1 billion in exports.
For many small businesses, the logical first step into exporting is Canada. Canada’s official languages are English and French, so language does not present as much of a barrier to business. Also, the majority of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border, meaning transportation costs are dramatically less than shipping to foreign customers thousands of miles away.
For the second year in a row, West Virginia saw an increase in exports to its No. 2 trading partner, India. West Virginia’s exports to India grew 46 percent in 2018.
Export help is available
The West Virginia Development Office works with small and medium-sized businesses to increase export sales and find reputable foreign business partners. Companies interested in pursuing international sales for the first time or looking to expand into new markets should contact the West Virginia Development Office to learn more about these services. Visit the West Virginia Development Office Export Assistance Program at westvirginia.gov/step.
West Virginia was selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration to receive a $250,000 grant from the SBA to support a new export assistance program under the International Division of the Development Office — the First STEP-Next STEP program.
The program provides funding to West Virginia small businesses looking to enter (first step) or expand (next step) in the global marketplace.
Any small business in West Virginia, regardless of their level of export experience, is eligible to participate in the program. A variety of activities and resources are available to help small businesses successfully market their products to overseas customers.
The First STEP-Next STEP program began Oct. 1, 2018, and continues through Sept. 29, 2020.
West Virginia exporters can also find help at the West Virginia Business Development Center (WBSBDC). The center’s consultants can help exporters strengthen profit margins, improve cash flow, increase sales and market share, promote more efficient business planning, improve access to capital and cultivate a more productive staff.
WVSBDC also provides consulting on financial matters and loan package development, international trade services, procurement assistance, online or on-site training, technology grants and workforce training grants.
The U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Centers in Charleston and Wheeling can link West Virginia companies with U.S. Embassy-qualified international buyers, low-cost export solutions and market research. The centers also promote BuyUSA-member catalogs at high-profile trade shows.
West Virginia University and the West Virginia Export Council jointly put on a class each year to qualify company representatives and students as export managers. The weekend classes cover six weeks of a semester and teach all aspects of exporting, from finding customers to shipping products and collecting money.
The class is taught from the academic standpoint as well as from the real-life perspective, with the goal of helping existing West Virginia companies export their goods and services and training export leaders of tomorrow.
Marshall University’s Center for International Programs, established in 1993, finds interpreters as they are needed when potential international business partners visit West Virginia.
Trade shows and missions
Two types of trade events — trade missions and trade shows — provide West Virginia companies opportunities to conduct business overseas.
Trade missions feature custom-tailored business appointments for each mission member. Often, these meetings are with officials at levels a company might have trouble reaching on its own. Matchmaking programs offered through the U.S. Department of Labor are often used to provide one-on-one meetings with potential business partners.
The state Development Office has three upcoming trade missions scheduled. An Aug. 18-28 mission is scheduled to multiple locations in Central America. A mission to multiple locations in Canada is scheduled Oct. 21-25. And the Development Office is planning to take a West Virginia delegation to the Singapore Air Show Feb. 11-16, 2020.
Development Office representatives arrange for interpreters and in-country transportation, coordinate receptions and market briefings and translate product literature. They also can help with logistics, including visas and passports. Companies pay a nominal participation fee and travel expenses.
Trade shows, which offer benefits to buyers and sellers alike, provide companies one easy-access location to introduce new products, conduct business, shop and research. Trade show attendees use sophisticated visiting strategies, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Trade Information Center, allowing companies the chance to interact with exactly the right customers.
A booth provided by West Virginia to its trade show delegation has enough space to display eight companies with a large, full-color graphic to illustrate each one, showing its product or logo. The Development Office pays for booth space.
West Virginia also maintains two international offices.
The West Virginia European Office, located in Zurich, Switzerland, promotes and increases trade and investment between West Virginia and Europe, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the state’s export market. The largest portion of international investment in the state comes from Europe, as well.
Officials also see the Zurich office as a catalyst in the expansion and development of cultural, educational and social partnerships throughout Eastern Europe.
The West Virginia Japan Office opened in 1990 in Nagoya.
Each year since 2002, the West Virginia Development Office and the West Virginia Export Council have honored businesses from across the state for exporting their products to new companies.
The Governor’s Commendation for International Market Entry is a framed piece of currency from each new country which the business has begun exporting to. Over the years, the state has presented West Virginia businesses with more than 2,000 of the awards, which mirror the tradition of displaying the first dollar a business earns.
More than 30 businesses were recognized with awards for their new exports in 2018. Over the years, many companies have garnered many awards as they steadily add more names to the list of foreign companies they sell to.
For example, in 2018 the TROY Group in Wheeling, which markets security solutions for checks and documents, entered five new foreign markets — Guinea-Bissau, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Myanmar and New Caledonia — which means five more awards to add to the dozens it has won in recent years.
The list of 2018 honorees, as released by the Governor’s Office, included:
Doc’s Tea and Mountaineer Brand in Berkeley County;
American Muscle Docks and Fabrication in Brooke County;
Hill Tree Roastery, Nippon Tungsten USA, Rubberlite, Steel of West Virginia and Tri-State Coating and Machine Company in Cabell County;
Falcon Analytical Systems & Technology in Greenbrier County;
Appalachian Distillery, Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, Mustang Sampling and Niche Polymer in Jackson County;
Dura Trac Flooring, Growth Media Productions and Schonstedt Instrument Company in Jefferson County;
Industrial Bolting Technologies and Preiser Scientific in Kanawha County;
Stoneza Inc. dba Wood Globe in Lincoln County;
Best Business Strategies and Tecnocap in Marshall County;
Gurkees® in Monongalia County;
Caperton Furniture Works and Washington Homeopathic Products in Morgan County;
Direct Online Marketing, TROY Group and Wheeling Truck Center in Ohio County;
Alpha Technologies, Kanawha Scales and Systems and Multicoat Products in Putnam County;
Kreinik Manufacturing Company in Wood County.