Francis “Putt” Wetherbee is president of Nut Tree Pecan Inc., which does wholesale cleaning, weighing, batch separation, production and sales, both domestically and to China. His family has grown pecans for five generations.

“Nut Tree has been a vertical provider since 2006, loading bags and preparing shipping documents for other exporters, but not directly to our own customers in China,” says Wetherbee. “When I became involved with the company in 2009 the China market had really heated up, so we became an exporter.

This new operational focus came with a challenge, he says. “We knew all we needed to know as domestic distributors, but we had no direct knowledge of the foreign customer. So my boss, Tom Stephensen, suggested I attend the Georgia Small Business Development Center’s ExportGA class.

“I did, and it was a great experience.”

“Putt’s company was a great prospect for ExportGA,” says SBDC consultant Dimitris Kloussiadis. “He was already shipping to China. He just wanted to take the business another step higher. Many who export are testing the waters. When they see there is possibility for more growth in international markets, they start proactively marketing to their new customers.”

ExportGA is designed for companies that have had some export experience, he continues. “These companies are looking to expand their markets or enter additional markets.”

During five one-day sessions, attendees are assisted by an SBDC international trade consultant, an intern from the University of Georgia’s international business program and staff from the Department of Commerce or Georgia Department of Economic Development. “They learn how to develop their markets, find international partners, meet international standards and how to price products for export,” says Kloussiadis. They study logistics, international commercial terms, export law and finance. By the end of the course, most have attended international trade shows.

“ExportGA takes a company step-by-step to proactively market their products overseas,” he continues. “After every session, attendees have three weeks to practice what they’ve learned and present it at the next session. Usually by the end of the program, most companies have communicated and negotiated with potential distributors.”

Nut Tree Pecans began exporting their product into China. “Our first year, we probably exported a million pounds of pecans,” says Wetherbee. “Our second year, we exported five million pounds. This year, our fourth, we expect to export five to eight million pounds.” The company is a seasonal employer, with a base staff of 10 that can rise to 40 at peak periods.

SBDC International Business Consultant Charles Boyanton helped walk Wetherbee through the EXIM Bank’s Export Insurance Program and the Small Business Administration’s Export Working Capital Program, through which Nut Tree Pecan obtained a loan to purchase inventory for its exports.

Wetherbee recommends that all small businesses establish a relationship with the SBDC. “They are a good resource. You may think you’ll never need them, but they’re very valuable when you do.”

Since its inception in 1999, ExportGA has helped more than 120 companies sell in excess of $35 million all over the world. Through a three-month export-training program, companies can develop skills to better prepare them to merge into international markets through a series of five workshops. For more information, visit www.georgiasbdc.org.