Farnborough air show proves a prime place for Wichita firms seeking global deals (VIDEOS)

07/16/2014 5:53 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Ed Ball, vice president of sales and marketing for Metal Finishing, has had a busy schedule at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow.

Ball has had appointments with companies from Australia, Japan, France and elsewhere.

Without the show to bring them together in one place, that would be difficult.

“There’s no way we would have an opportunity to do that, or it would be very expensive for us to go to all these different facilities in Europe and in Asia,” Ball said. “I guarantee I wouldn’t be making a trip to Australia – I don’t think I could sell the boss on that.”

Metal Finishing, along with five other Wichita aircraft suppliers, partnered with the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and the state of Kansas to promote their products and services to Europe and the world during the weeklong airshow.

The group is sharing exhibit space inside the U.S. Pavilion, which spans 1.5 acres inside three halls and features products and services from 250 exhibitors from around the country. Officials from other aviation-related Wichita businesses also are attending this week’s show.

The air show, held in alternate years with the Paris Air Show, is an important way to increase exports, Ball said.

“It’s very important right now,” Ball said of increasing exports.

Metal Finishing does pre-finish and final processing of aluminum, steel and composite parts. It employs more than 250 people.

Today, about 10 percent of Metal Finishing’s sales are from international customers. Within the next 10 years, the company plans to increase that to 25 percent.

Jim Barnes, president of Harlow Aerostructures, is showing off two new auto throttles the company designed. They’ve gotten a lot of attention this week at the show. One is a single-lever power throttle for single-engine turboprops; the other is for general aviation and military planes.

They’ve been in design for a couple of years, Barnes said.

“We’re trying to meet as many new people as we can to show those products to with the hope that they see some value with going with a company like ours,” he said.

Harlow also is also talking with European customers, he said.

“The show was really good for us,” Barnes said Wednesday.

The Wichita coalition has “been amazing,” he said.

Without the support of Kansas and the coalition, “we wouldn’t be here. We got a lot of interest in our throttles – a lot of international business contacts.”

The show is a way to have face-to-face meetings rather than setting up multiple overseas trips.

About 7 percent of Harlow’s business is international, he said. Its five-year business plan is to increase that to 15 to 20 percent, depending on the product mix.

Harlow, which employs 150 people, builds complex assemblies and components, such as bulkheads, spars, chords, stringers, bushings, bolts and bearings. It develops prototypes for customers as well.

Lee Aerospace is at the Farnborough show for the first time, and it has been a good experience.

“I’m seeing a lot of activity,” said Glenn Heil, Lee Aerospace director of aftermarket sales. that has led to a lot of good leads and referrals to follow up on.

“I do have some potential projects to come out of the show,” Heil said.

Selling overseas

Helping Wichita-area companies increase sales through global exports is important, said Tim Chase, president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

Overseas sales boost the local economy and increase jobs, Chase said.

The strategy is such a vital one that the coalition has been working with the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase on a project called the Global Cities Initiative, Chase said.

Wichita is one of a group of eight cities taking part in the five-year project to help leaders re-orient their economies toward a greater engagement in world markets.

The program helps companies focus on global trade.

“We are creating an entire formal strategy on how do we do this on a very aggressive and much broader basis,” Chase said.

The goal is to help companies inside and outside the aviation industry.

“It’s a fairly substantial list of six to 10 other industry sectors that we have opportunities to boost exports in,” Chase said.

The first part of the project to increase exports will be rolled out in the next 30 days, along with the data analysis and conclusions that have been drawn, he said.

“That sets the stage for what we are going to do and what’s the plan going to be,” Chase said. “That will be finished up later this year.”

Wichita-area exports are on the rise.

In 2003, total exports of goods from companies in a 10-county area totaled $6.57 billion. In 2012, the latest figures available, exports totaled $9.12 billion, according to information from Kansas Global Trade Services.

Transportation equipment manufacturing, which includes aviation manufacturing, totaled $3.74 billion in 2003 and reached a high of $6.92 billion in 2007. In 2012, it was $4.79 billion.

The aviation industry is globally competitive, said Karyn Page, president and CEO of Kansas Global Trade Services.

An impediment to smaller companies conducting business internationally is limited internal resources – such as knowledge of international regulations, the ability to easily communicate in other languages and knowledge about government and business processes.

If they have access to outside resources, the companies could grow without making huge financial investments.

Services are available, but exporters don’t often connect to them, Page said.

“When companies do, they’re largely satisfied with the assistance,” she said. That’s an indication that if it becomes easier to gain access to export services, then challenges can be minimized.

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