January 17, 2014
Ohio’s small businesses, in looking for ways to increase sales, sometimes fail to consider the opportunities provided by foreign markets.
The state wants to encourage businesses to take the plunge by offering them a helping hand — in the form of a specially trained college intern.
“Exporting is not rocket science; it’s not harder than doing what they already do,” said Tim Sword, an export-assistance manager for the Ohio Development Services Agency. “But it does require a little more attention to detail, which requires someone to focus on it.”
That’s where the college student comes in.
The Ohio Export Internship Program is in its third year of training students to help Ohio companies increase exports. More than 30 students have been selected for this year’s program, and the state agency is looking for companies to put them to work.
The summer internship program is a partnership with Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, and it reimburses the company for half of the intern’s wages. The deadline for companies to apply is Jan. 31.
In the first two years of the program, 28 matches of students and companies were created, resulting in more than $7.7 million in expected global sales and three offers of full-time jobs.
One job went to Lynn Lun-Rich, an international-marketing specialist for Sutphen Corp. in Dublin.
Sutphen, which makes firetrucks, had sold two abroad before her arrival. Since then, the company has exported 10 trucks to China, Thailand and Latin America. Those sales brought in about $11 million in revenue.
Ken Creese, director of sales and marketing for Sutphen, was seeking export assistance from the state in early 2012 when he learned about the internship program. The company was just beginning to pursue exporting.
“Prior to Lynn coming on, less than 1 percent of our total business was exports,” Creese said. Last year, “9 percent of our business was exports.”
That increase wasn’t exclusively due to Lun-Rich, he said, but she was a key player and coordinated many of the company’s efforts.
“My boss said because of my presence during the summer, we accomplished a year’s work in about two months,” Lun-Rich said. The interns “are not necessarily the experts in exporting, but the class taught us how to find the necessary tools.”
Those tools include the wisdom of about a dozen industry contacts who lecture throughout the program’s spring-semester training class, then provide their counsel or resources to the interns during the summer.
This year, the group consists of customs brokers, international-trade lawyers, a trade-assistance professional, a transportation-logistics specialist and others.
Some students also bring language skills. Lun-Rich speaks Chinese and Spanish — a perfect fit for the markets that Sutphen was pursuing.
Sales are only one goal of the internship program. Jobs also are a hoped-for bonus.
Soon after Lun-Rich’s internship, Sutphen hired an engineer for its growing Chinese market.
“Our hope and ambition is that this actually creates jobs,” Sword said. “We’re trying to uncover that there’s a huge segment of potential jobs that are export-related.”
But if the interns are going to help in creating jobs, they have to be excellent. Sword knows that, which is why the program is so selective.
This year, the class accepted 32 students out of 110 applicants.
Students must be business majors or minors and have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Foreign-language skills and international-travel experience are preferred but not required. The program is open to qualifying students at any Ohio university.
In addition to skills and experience, Sword said he looks for genuine enthusiasm, flexibility and a “fantastic ability to communicate.”
Sword and program coordinator Tina Hrabak, who teaches the class with him, soon will be getting to know the latest group of students and match them with participating companies.
More than 95 percent of the world’s population and two-thirds of global purchasing power are outside the U.S., yet less than 1 percent of the nation’s 30 million businesses export, according to the state agency.
Small and medium-sized companies are 97 percent of U.S. exporters, but their goods are only about 30 percent of the total.
Sword has worked with businesses for 17 years to increase their exports, and he proposed the internship program to OSU after having his own interns.
He said he would like the idea to spread.
“We didn’t invent all this. We just connected the resources that were already there,” he said.
The 2014 internship runs from May 12 through Aug. 8. Companies can apply at www.development.ohio.gov/bs/bs_oxip.htm.