Small Business Focus: Opportunity knocks overseas

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2003


Sometimes it’s not easy to see opportunity. For example, it’s downright difficult to peer into the future and envision a winning entrepreneural venture.

Many of the millions of successful American small-business owners who have done so will agree that starting and building a business was not easy and there were times when they had serious doubts. It is not something that everyone can do.

Today, the U.S. economy is struggling and small business shares the burden. The challenges are even greater for other nations. Financial turmoil, political strife and concerns about war abound.

Anyone who might suggest that now’s the time to launch a new venture can expect scorn. But opportunities are awaiting those who have the courage to look beyond the gloomy headlines that assault us daily.

Opportunities? Where?

Overseas, that’s where. More than ever, world trade is crucial to the health of our economy and the growth of American business. Taking a small business into the overseas marketplace not only offers opportunities to boost a company’s sales and profit, but also opens up additional markets, offsets the lack of demand for seasonal goods and increases the life cycle of a product or service.

In February, I was invited by President bush to join the President’s Export Council. This group is the premier national advisory committee on international trade, advising the president on government policies and programs that affect trade. As one of 28 private-sector members of the PEC, I have a unique opportunity to offer the small-business viewpoint in discussions about important economic issues.

Often, small businesses don’t see exporting as a top priority. They’re caught up in the day-to-day operations of running their firms, making their payrolls and working hard to keep smiles on their customers’ faces.

But a closer look at the potential offered by expanding a business outside the United States bears attention. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses represent more than 99 percent of all employers and hire more than half of the U.S. private workforce. They also account for more than 95 percent of the nation’s exporters of goods and contribute nearly 30 percent of the value of exported goods.

However, here’s a fact that should grab the attention of budding entrepreneurs: Less than 2 percent of the more than 22 million American small businesses export goods and services.

Opportunity? You bet. The potential for increased small-business participation in exporting is almost beyond imagination.

But imagination is what fuels the fire in the bellies of true entrepreneurs. While some may hesitate and wring their hands over the daily headlines, those that have that burning desire will seize the opportunity exporting offers their enterprises.

Sure, there are challenges and obstacles, but federal agencies are eager to help. For example, SBA’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers already have a program in place, the Export Trade Assistance Partnership, to help pave the way.

Go west, entrepreneurs, and east and north and south.

JACK FARIS is president of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation’s largest small-business advocacy group.