Tools of the Trade: Michigan Helps Companies Go International
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Resources from the MEDC’s International Trade Program are providing Michigan’s companies with growth opportunities across the globe
This article was updated in April 2023.
With a globally connected location and robust industry supply chain, Michigan is the gateway to the world. In fact, $61.1 billion in total goods was exported from Michigan in 2022 alone. And while Michigan is home to many global corporations, the state’s small business community is actively involved in contributing to Michigan’s presence in the global market. Case in point: nearly 89 percent of Michigan exporters are small businesses.
In honor of World Trade Week, recognized from May 1-5, 2023, Michigan is celebrating the importance and benefits of global trade on our state’s economy. Throughout the week, business and community leaders are sharing international business knowledge and resources through events and conferences, highlighting the link between international trade and Michigan’s economic well-being, commending companies succeeding in global markets, and recognizing the contributions of international trade to job creation in the state.
Celebrated in Michigan for 37 years, World Trade Week holds a special significance in the state, where MEDC’s International Trade Program offers a wealth of expertise and resources available to help Michigan businesses grow within the state and internationally. For over 10 years, the state has been at the forefront of helping Michigan small and medium-sized businesses grow in the state through increased export opportunities.
MEDC’s International Trade Program
When considering whether to export, business owners have questions. Are their businesses ready? How do they make connections? What if they lack financial resources, or don’t speak other languages? The MEDC’s International Trade Program provides the support needed to open doors to global market opportunities.
Since the International Trade Program’s inception in 2012, the program has worked with thousands of Michigan companies, and in 2023, the team hit a major milestone: $5 billion in facilitated export sales. Thanks in part to the dedicated International Trade team, Michigan has the seventh highest percent of trade as a portion of its GDP in the nation, with inbound-outbound trade accounting for 33 percent of the state’s GDP.
MEDC’s network of trade representatives covers more than 135 countries in support of Michigan’s small business export development and global market opportunities.
As the gateway to export services for Michigan businesses, the program facilitates opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses to export their products around the world so they can grow and prosper in the state. In FY2022, international sales as a direct result of Michigan Strategic Fund/MEDC assistance totaled over $614.5 million to 127 countries.
For Michigan business owners pursuing exports or considering their export readiness, the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC) partners with the MEDC’s International Trade services to deliver additional export assistance to Michigan’s small businesses.
In FY23, International Trade Services contractors and providers will be offering additional services aimed at supporting new and/or inexperienced exporters. This includes “New to Export” roundtables and statewide export infrastructure trainings hosted by Van Andel Global Trade Center, self-guided online modules available through the SBDC and industry-focused export roundtables hosted by the Michigan State University International Business Center.
MEDC offers a federally and state-funded Michigan State Trade Expansion Program, also known as MI-STEP, to help eligible Michigan-based small businesses increase their reach in international markets as part of their export journey. Qualifying companies can apply for this competitive financial assistance award to help offset the cost of export-related activities, reducing the cost of doing business in global markets so they can increase and diversify their customer base.
Eligible Michigan small businesses can receive 75 percent reimbursement up to $15,000 annually for export-related activities, including: foreign trade missions and sales trips; reverse trade missions; international website development; international trade shows; export training; U.S. Department of Commerce services; international marketing media; ecommerce platform expenses; and more.
Safe n Simple, a medical devices company based in Clarkston, wanted to expand sales in the global market. The company applied for and received a MI-STEP grant to attend Arab Health, a leading healthcare conference and trade show in the Middle East. The Arab Health 2020 exposition provided Safe n Simple with exposure to potential and current customers looking to distribute their medical products.
The trip also gave the company the opportunity to connect with their sales rep covering the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. As a result, Safe n Simple is now reporting large export sales from a contract they were working on when they attended Arab Health 2020, resulting in a six-figure export growth as of January 2022.
Portage Township’s Great Lakes Sound & Vibration (GLSV), a manufacturer in the defense solutions space, is another company with a growing global presence thanks to its engagement with MEDC’s International Trade Program since 2014. GLSV has utilized the Michigan Canada Center, one of MEDC’s International Trade Centers, and MI-STEP to offset cost of export-related activities.
In 2019, GLSV participated in the MEDC- and U.S. Commercial Service-hosted program, ExporTech, an intensive, 10-week export planning course program that helped the company craft a strategic export plan, provided market research on their highest potential markets, and offered resources and connections to services that can support them along the way. Since then, GLSV has participated in additional international trade shows including Eurosatory in June 2022, building on best practices and relationships built with help from MEDC.
In September 2022, Gov. Whitmer announced Michigan once again received the top award in the nation from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) State Trade Expansion Program for the upcoming fiscal year. Michigan received $1.4 million in federal grant funds – the maximum amount awarded by the SBA – to help Michigan small businesses grow in the state through increased access to global markets. With additional state match funding, the total funds available are $1.86 million.
The MEDC’s International Trade team also hosts in-person and virtual trade missions and shows and creates networking opportunities for international companies to connect with Michigan businesses and increase the value of Michigan exports. When companies face barriers to achieving international growth, MEDC’s International Trade Managers identify resources and make introductions to overcome obstacles and jumpstart the company’s momentum in a foreign market.
In the first half of 2023 alone, the International Trade team will have hosted trade missions to India, Africa, United Kingdom and Netherlands, Australia and Southeast Asia, as well as attended IDEX in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy. The International Trade team worked with several partner organizations – including Automation Alley, the Michigan Defense Center and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers – to support Michigan’s businesses and increase international sales as a result of the trade missions.
For Detroit-based PROLIM, expanding into India’s automotive and industrial machinery market was essential to its continued growth in helping corporations succeed in product lifecycle management strategies. PROLIM was invited to join the MEDC's International Trade Program, which was partnering with Automation Alley of Troy, for a trade mission to India. MEDC arranged a customized itinerary for each participant that, in PROLIM’s case, focused on meetings with potential customers and local market resources.
PROLIM also received funding through MI-STEP to offset the costs of participation. By traveling with MEDC and Automation Alley, PROLIM met with more than 10 companies in one week to evaluate new business opportunities. As a result of the trade mission, PROLIM received its first order at its new sales office within three months. The company’s expected growth was $1 million in the first year and then to grow at least 30 percent annually. Sales in an international market like India help PROLIM expand their customer base, maintaining steady growth and profitability which support jobs in Michigan.
In addition to grants, MEDC’s International Trade team also has a number of service providers that support Michigan exporters’ expansion and entry into new foreign markets. These contractors provide tangible, actionable resources for technical items related to export success for new and experienced exporters. The service providers cover a range of support, from legal trainings on intellectual property and international data privacy compliance, to company website translations and international search engine optimizations. These offerings round out the additional support businesses can access by working with the International Trade team.
To learn more about how MEDC’s International Trade Program can help you grow your business into new markets, please visit michiganbusiness.org/export.
MEDC’s International Trade team facilitates export opportunities for Michigan businesses who are interested in or currently selling their products in foreign markets. To get started on your export journey, complete our International Trade Inquiry Form.
To contact a business development specialist, click here or call 1.888.522.0103.
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