Trade plan seeks to grow exports by more than $1 billion

Question: What’s easier than luring a new plant to town?

Answer: Have the companies already here sell more.

That’s the reason behind a year-long effort to reshape the way companies in the Wichita area’s export. The Wichita-South Central Kansas Regional Export Plan, unveiled Thursday at the Meridian Center in Newton, aims to raise Wichita area exports by $1.1 billion over five years.

Such a boost in sales would translate into roughly 6,000 more jobs, according to federal estimates.

The Wichita area has long been one of the nation’s heaviest exporting regions for its size because of the aircraft it sells globally. But there is plenty of money left on the table, according to the study.

The plan released Thursday provides an overview of just how a 10-county region that includes Wichita would use a collection of local groups to encourage, educate and assist the area’s small and medium-sized local manufacturers and service businesses to export more.

The plan was developed by a group of local organizations, led by Kansas Global Trade Services. They were, in turn, guided by a process, the Global Cities Initiative, developed by the Brookings Institution and J.P. Morgan Chase bank. Wichita is part of a group of metro areas that participated in similar projects. The metro areas include Philadelphia, Baltimore, Houston, Salt Lake City, Fresno, Seattle and Kansas City. Twenty other U.S. metros are already part of the way through their five-year plans.

Along with KGTS, other local groups that have committed to carrying out the plan are: the Regional Economic Area Partnership, Network Kansas, the Kansas Small Business Development Center, the Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, as well as several other local, state and federal agencies and groups.

The plan proposes to increase exports by non-aviation companies by 30 percent and service companies by 15 percent. That means staff and volunteers from those local groups making site visits, conducting seminars and taking phone calls from interested business executives and local officials.

Karyn Page, president of Kansas Global Trade Services, said that in earlier studies they wanted to find out what the biggest barriers to exporting were. It turns out many executives are somewhat interested in exporting, but they didn’t know know what steps to take or who they needed to make connections with. Building an export plan was mostly a matter of developing ways to make it easy and more convenient, she said.

“We had the services they wanted,” she said, “but there was a gap between the companies and the service providers.”

Brian Finch, executive director of the Global Cities Initiative for J.P. Morgan Chase, said the plans developed in other metro regions succeeded in changing the way executives at many small companies think about the world. They started to see selling into Canada as really nothing different from selling into Nebraska.

“It has helped a culture change in how you do economic development,” he said. “That fact that we can be doing business globally is finally part of the daily conversation.”

The plan calls for:

▪ A better coordinated support network by making Network Kansas the first point of contact for companies that want to learn more, while Kansas Global Trade Services remains the main contact for expertise. The plan also would create grant and mentoring programs for companies seeking export training.

▪ Building more community support by creating an export training program for community leaders. There also is a call for colleges to teach more about exports and export programs.

▪ Helping aviation suppliers by having an existing aviation group develop trade policy, education, trade show and trade mission opportunities. There also would be available under the plan one-on-one connections for aviation suppliers, starting with the China market.

▪ Helping non-aviation companies by providing export opportunity assessments to firms in target sectors. The plan also calls for identifying existing market research in target sectors to catalog export expansion opportunities, and expanding export education. It also would establish an in-depth export accelerator program for companies in target sectors, and strengthen existing in-country trade partnerships to include target sectors.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.