The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com
on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies
on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other
firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.
CHICAGO – In this Q&A, international expert Michael Muth speaks with World Trade Center Illinois
(WTCI) Chairman Neil F. Hartigan along with World Trade Center Illinois
director of trade services Bilal Ozer to discuss how they’re helping
small to medium-sized businesses and encouraging trade. Listen to the
full interview here.
Michael Muth: Who are WTCI’s customers: foreigners coming to Illinois or Illinoisans going abroad?
Since we’re in the private sector and we’re a 501(c)(3), we support
both export and import. We target small to medium-sized businesses. We
also work with the consulates and embassies. Our goal is to get past
the 15 percent of our businesses that trade. Only 5 percent of world
business is done in the U.S. today. We’re the only entity that only
focuses just on trade and not investment.
MM commentary: I’d like to know the source of the 15 percent figure.
MM: What problems do you solve for your customers?
NH: Why are only
15 percent of businesses trading? We haven’t grown up with it. It’s not
natural to us. Some 400 businesses do 85 percent of the trade in the
U.S. They have the capital resources, people and internal
infrastructure. We target small and medium-sized businesses that have
the appetite for trade.
fear. You’re afraid of it. Do you trade with someone 50 or 5,000 miles
away? The feeling is that closer is safer. While everyone has heard of
trade, no one knows about it. It’s not well understood. What’s NAFTA
about? What’s the WTO about? Our competitors are trading. We can’t
afford to have only 15 percent of our businesses trading.
MM commentary: American firms have plenty of problems exporting.
MM: Is there any specific focus on any particular country, region or continent?
NH: China has the
most visiting delegations. We have done a lot in Europe. The largest
investor in Illinois is Great Britain. We try to take the ethnic groups
that are here there. African-Americans are a bridge to Africa. There
are 30 ethnic chambers of commerce here. Canada is our biggest trading
We also have representatives from the Middle East along with growing
interest in former Soviet republics in central Asia and eastern Europe.
We had a successful program where we hosted companies in southeastern
Europe and from north Africa.
MM commentary: I’m surprised there isn’t more of a focus on the BRIC countries.
MM: How does WTCI justify dues of $1,500 for small to mid-sized enterprises?
NH: Since we’re a
501(c)(3), it’s tax deductible. You have to be able to generate the
revenues to employ qualified people. They get a lot more back than at
first blush. When we did a demonstration program, we gave free
membership for a year to become eligible. We don’t want to create a
barrier to those who can benefit from it.
MM commentary: While there are many ways to justify it, it still sounds expensive for small to mid-sized businesses.
MM: What are the original sources for the WTCI’s trade information resources?
BO: We have access
to 10 databases rather than just one. We have access to the customs of
the European Union, Japan, Canada, the U.S. and Taiwan. For exim
statistics, our source is the U.S. Census bureau. For other countries,
it’s ministries of finance. We make sure we have reliable government
MM commentary: Some of these are freely available. I want databases full of potential customers.
MM: How are your matchmaking services better than those of other organizations?
directions are different. We have a network of 330 world trade centers
around the world. We can contact others directly. We can determine the
best market in house to find out distributors and representatives.
NH: If you’re a member of one world trade center, you’re a member of all world trade centers.
You have to have contacts in a country who can do due diligence. On the
other side with foreign delegations coming to Chicago, we’ve developed
a unique experience to help foreign companies.
I can’t say if their world trade center matchmaking services are better
than the U.S. Department of Commerce or other matchmaking services.
MM: How do you promote WTCI members?
NH: We do 80
programs a year. You see different sponsors at different levels. To get
them more visibility, we try to feature them when they fit in a program
as a speaker on a panel. If the need is in trade finance or freight
forwarding, our members are those specialists.
MM commentary: I think they could do more to feature small members on their Web site.
MM: What languages does WTCI facilitate?
NH: We speak multiple languages. We have 20 to 40 interns from various business schools. They have many language capabilities.
MM commentary: I’m sure full-time staff speak other languages. Interns don’t cut it.
MM: Please give an example of how you’ve helped a local technology company.
BO: One good
example was a developer of a software program for bank security. It’s
gaining momentum in the eastern Europe, China and the Middle East. We
introduced them to banks in those areas.
Gulf Care is run by young fellas from Saudi Arabia. They put together a
company with doctors from the U.S. You take a surgical suite, put it on
a trailer truck and can move it after natural disasters for temporary
surgeries. You can set it up anywhere. It’s mobile. It’s built in the
suburbs of Chicago.
MM commentary: These success stories are great.
MM: How do you work together with the Illinois Department of
Commerce & Economic Opportunity, World Business Chicago, the
International Trade Club of Chicago, the International Trade
Association of Greater Chicago and MidAmerica Real Estate Group in
NH: We invite them
to be co-sponsors without any kind of financial obligation. There are
75 groups with “international” in their title. We’re the only one that
focuses just on trade. World Business Chicago is the investment arm for
Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Jack Lavin has been
very supportive. John Stroger got the county involved.
MM commentary: Though I’ve seen this world trade center partner with a few other organizations occasionally, it seems rather rare.
MM: How do your members work with other world trade centers?
NH: They have a
membership card and can get into the Web site to see buy/sell
opportunities. They’ll often have a club as part of it with temporary
office space. Before going overseas, we can contact the chairman or CEO
of where they’re going. That facilitates it even more.
MM commentary: This can be very helpful.
MM: What’s the relationship with the umbrella organization?
NH: We are longtime members of the association. We were seventh world trade center in the world. There are now 330 of them.
MM commentary: The value is in how much you leverage the relationships.
MM: Why are South America and Africa underrepresented in the world trade center network?
NH: While I don’t
know the percent, there have been substantial ones built recently in
Brazil, Chile, Argentina and in the Middle East in Dubai.
MM commentary: Given that these are future growth areas, it’s important for them to get up to speed.
MM: How did you get involved with international trade?
NH: As deputy
mayor, lieutenant governor and attorney general for Illinois, any time
I had a chance to host a delegation I always found their approach
U.S. Sen. Paul
Simon talked about what cripples we are with languages. When I was a
student in Europe in the 1950s, the person giving the bus tour spoke
seven languages. I spoke a little bit of French and enough Spanish to
buy a bank in Argentina. I wish I spoke more. Even if it’s only a few
words, it’s appreciated.
MM commentary: While I think Neil is an old-school guy, his passion for international trade shines through.
MM: Anything else?
NH: We’ve been
developing a system for years that helps small businesses. It’s going
to be too late when people figure out how important trade is.
Priorities have to change. We need to get aggressive on trade before
it’s too late.
MM commentary: Wake up people and get out there!
Michael Muth is managing director of GATA,
an international business development consultancy that helps technology
companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.
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