A Conversation with Van Andel Global Trade Center on Empowering Michigan Businesses to Thrive Globally

Courtney Overbey

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The global ecosystem is constantly evolving, often propagating new hurdles for Michigan businesses looking to export their goods and services. Alyssa Tracey, director of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) International Trade program, and Sonja Johnson, executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center at Grand Valley State University, came together to discuss resources to help businesses compete and thrive in today’s international markets. The duo also announced a unique opportunity to network at Van Andel’s 4th Annual Summer Summit.

See below for excerpts and key insights from the conversation and watch the full 30-minute livestream to learn more.

Michigan businesses can depend on Van Andel Global Trade Center to help them navigate industry trends and more

Alyssa: What kind of support does the Van Andel Global Trade Center provide?

Sonja: We offer a variety of services to help small, medium and large multinational companies. How they work with us varies on their experience in exporting. For inexperienced companies, we start out with a basic strategic plan. We really feel that a foundation in understanding and learning the strategic direction for their export growth is paramount to achieving sustainable continued success.

Alyssa: Given the long history of Van Andel Global Trade Center, you've had a lot of companies that have tapped into your program. As a result, they’re able to grow into new international markets more confidently. Is there a particular type of company that you work with?

Sonja: They're definitely a number of companies we have worked with. A good example is when a small family-owned business first started working with us, and only 5% of their sales were export. Through our partnerships and network in the global ecosystem, they found other partners that were able to sell their products around the world and establish a sales funnel in different countries. This year, they're expecting to double their export sales growth, and that's just one example. Larger, multinational companies may work with us a little differently through their in-house training that can be done right here in Michigan.

Alyssa: Have you seen any trends in the types of requests that have come through? What kind of challenges or successes have companies been experiencing?

Sonja: I think the trends in the automotive sector have affected our industries the most. For example, due to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, businesses now must pick around a little more to find out how the country-of-origin rules applies to the required parts, how they have to be processed, and how those materials are going into the automotive part they’re selling. It’s a little more challenging for them to get everything set up and substantiate a United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement claim today, but they were able to adapt pretty quickly, because as we all know here in Michigan, automotive is a resilient industry.

Alyssa: How can companies get involved if they have questions about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement?

Sonja: We offer public trainings, both virtual and in person. Those will be kicking off in October and anybody can go to our website to see upcoming events and trainings. Because of our great partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, we're able to offer onsite customized training to a limited number of companies that qualify. We also have the opportunity to facilitate export product training for those businesses who’ve never shipped internationally before. Our team will come in and take a look at existing processes and procedures to help companies develop anything needed to be added to those existing procedures in order to be able to meet an export sale.

Michigan businesses can compete globally utilizing the Van Andel Global Trade Center’s Worldwide Credit Report tool

Alyssa: Can you tell us a little bit about how the worldwide credit reports are used? What kinds of companies can benefit from them?

Sonja: The worldwide credit reports is something that the Van Andel Global Trade Center has been offering since 2005. It’s a tool to help Michigan exporters understand their overseas customers without using a letter of credit to validate that the customer is sound and secure. It's an online form where companies can get information specific to what they're trying to find out about that customer to help them make the business decision regarding payment terms. It also gives businesses the opportunity to ask some additional questions on the finance of prospect companies, to give them an even playing field to make good decisions to offer credit. Essentially, it allows our Michigan businesses and exporters to compete globally.

Join this year’s global trade networking summit, an opportunity to learn key insights from leading companies

Alyssa: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Summer Summit on keynote speaker perhaps and any other details you could share?

Sonja: The Summer Summit is an opportunity for companies to learn about current topics involved in global sales and network with other people in the industry, while having a little bit of fun along the way. We're excited to offer our first in-person event on August 11. We’ll kick it off with our keynote speaker, Petco’s Manager of International Logistics & Compliance, Macrina Griffith. Additionally, the funds we raise at the summit will go toward hiring additional students at the Van Andel Global Trade Center who gain international trade experience prior to graduation through our internships. In our history, we’ve been able to hire 56 students from this event. We’ll also have food and drinks, roundtable discussions on various topics, fun interactive games and more.

To learn how the MEDC’s International Trade programs can benefit your Michigan business, please visit https://www.michiganbusiness.org/services/international-trade/.

Register for the Van Andel Global Trade Center’s Summer Summit at https://www.gvsu.edu/vagtc/event-view.htm?eventId=C6D87CF9-BBB2-7507-64C5BC9D882EA40D.

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