Industry Market Trends

Cleantech Manufacturers: Leverage EDOs to Help Export Your Products

Mar 27, 2013

Credit: Renjith Krishnan. Credit: Renjith Krishnan.

For manufacturers of green energy products and related components that are interested in exporting their goods outside of the U.S., there is a group of people eager to help. And they want little or no money for these services.

Edward Kowalewski is one of them. He is the director of international trade programs, international division for the New York State Dept. of Economic Development. Kowalewski spoke to a group of cleantech advocates and manufacturers at the World Green Energy Symposium at Hunter College in New York City on Tuesday, March 26. There, he told attendees that New York and other economic development organizations (EDOs) are "desparate to get the word out" about their programs and offerings.

Kowalewski knows just how daunting and challenging it can be for an industrial business to establish an exporting base. There's cultural, political, and economic nuances to navigate. Canada, for example, does not have a great deal of distributor-only businesses, he explained. Thus, a U.S. company looking for a distribution deal in Canada would do better to establish a relationship with a Canadian manufacturer. "It's far more common for manufacturers to be distributors [of foreign products] in Canada," he said. This is a subtle difference, he told attendees - a similar deal in Singapore or China would be far more complex.

For many manufacturing businesses, regardless of market, entering the world stage can be a rude awakening, warned Kowalewski. He told a story of a medical device manufacturer that made a one-of-a-kind product in the U.S. However, it turned out that in Europe, there are at least seven or eight companies that make competing devices.

Kowalewski urged cleantech manufacturers to be deliberate in their decision to export. "Know the reason you are going overseas," he said, but added that an EDO can help design an export strategy if a business is not sure where to begin. Still, he described the role of an EDO as being akin to that of a real estate agent. "It's like buying a house - you tell me what kind of companies you want to do business with."

Beyond that, he said the best thing any cleantech manufacturer can do to ensure their success internationally is to "have a good product to start with."

Programs like the State Trade Export Promotion (STEP) program have been helping EDOs get the word out about their offerings as well as fund their activity. But Kowalewski said manufacturers have to be realistic about their expecations. He told attendees that there is a "lag time" before the business relationships turn into major returns. "If you enter a new market, its rare that you come back with a sale unles you've done all the prep work in advance," he said.

Still, he said there are few companies that couldn't benefit from exporting. "Not only do companies [that export] do well because they are generating more revenue, those that have international trade are stronger, get exposed to new ideas, and do better than those that do not," he said.