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International affairs — Business owners come together to overcome global challenges

CUMBERLAND — Getting a company noticed on the international market isn’t easy, and some local business owners are coming together to find ways to overcome challenges they face overseas.

It’s getting easier to get recognized, though, said Rick Martin, director of the International Trade Center of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center, on Thursday at a breakfast focusing on international trade at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce office at 240 Interstate North Parkway near Interstate 75.

Barriers to breaking into international markets are being shattered with the help from the Internet. A company that once had to rely on word of mouth or extensive marketing campaigns overseas can now connect with a client with the click of a computer mouse.

Yet, less than 1 percent of America’s 30 million companies, about 279,000, are exporting, said Martin, who is based in Kennesaw. But 97 percent of exporters are considered to be small- to medium-sized businesses. About 67 percent of those exporters have fewer than 20 employees.

The Great Recession that left some employers wondering how they would manage to keep their operations afloat also sent business owners looking overseas to grow their companies.

“For any business community, for them to grow, it is important for them to look at the international market,” Martin said. “Ninety-five percent of consumers are outside the U.S.”

Metro Atlanta has a mostly service-based economy, Martin said, but still has a larger percentage of exporting businesses than the national average.

Local business leaders told the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Thursday what hurdles they face in establishing a presence in foreign countries and how the chamber can help.

Overwhelmingly, business owners pointed to difficulties gaining exposure and ignorance about differing cultures. Americans may pride themselves on punctuality, but that can be a different story in a country such as Mexico. Currency fluctuations can bring another headache.

Still, there are trust issues when using companies overseas. An American-based company may not be able to be sure their foreign partner is not using child labor.

“It’s smart to have something in your company goals, import or export, that grows you internationally because that’s the way of the future,” said Micki Taylor, senior partner of Atlanta-based International Staffing Partners. “It creates jobs and our world is getting smaller.”

Taylor was one of more than 50 professionals who attended the event and told the Chamber they’d like to see a person dedicated to international business and more education about foreign cultures, currencies and languages.

Tom Wesley of Atlanta-based The Wesley Group said he wants to see Cobb promote its natural resources like Lake Allatoona and Kennesaw Mountain. Doing that, he says, could make international visitors feel more at home and, in turn, want to do more business with Cobb businesses.

“Make it more people-friendly and internationally friendly so people want to come here,” Wesley said.

He also points to educational assets, like Southern Polytechnic State University and Kennesaw State University, that could be touted as demonstrating an educated work force.

“People want to go where they can get those employees,” Wesley said.

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