By EARL RAY TOMBLIN
CHARLESTON -- Recently I had the privilege of awarding the Governor's Commendation for International Market Entry to 49 West Virginia companies.
The award honors companies that have successfully exported products to a new country in the past year.
I was impressed by the diversity of nations -- more than 90 -- with which these West Virginia companies made their inaugural trade. Ten of these companies exported to our northern neighbor Canada for the first time. Nine exported to China. Others were countries often thought of as exotic locations on the map, and now know as partners in commerce: Anguilla, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, Macau, Trinidad and Tobago, among many others.
Equally as striking were the West Virginia businesses themselves. Many were founded in West Virginia. One was spun-off from university research. Two were branches of international companies investing in West Virginia, now exporting to other countries and bringing new dollars back to the Mountain State.
These were for the most part small to mid-size companies, averaging 89 employees. The smallest has but two employees; the largest, 844. Yet they have extended their businesses around the world. These companies enable West Virginia men and women to care for their families, improve their household budgets, and expand their workplace skills through employment opportunities. Simply, these companies create and retain jobs in West Virginia. More than 17 percent of all manufacturing workers in West Virginia depend on exports for their jobs.
In 2010, West Virginia's exports reached a record level $6.4 billion. Mountain State exports grew by 33 percent over last year, outperforming the U.S. export growth rate of 21 percent.
I encourage more of West Virginia's small and mid-size companies to explore worldwide trade. Expert guidance is available from the Export Promotion Program of the West Virginia Development Office (WVDO), in cooperation with the U.S. Commercial Service and the West Virginia Export Council.
Explore new possibilities and new territories.WVDO conducts in-plant seminars to explore the challenges and opportunities of entering the international market. WVDO also offers customized research to assess the potential in a particular market - free upon request to all West Virginia companies.
The West Virginia Development Office recruits qualified agents, distributors and end users to visit the state and tour facilities. Take the opportunity to meet international buyer delegations on your own home turf.
Industry-specific trade shows and trade missions also help put West Virginia companies in touch with international markets. The experience and administrative support from state and federal agencies make participation more productive and cost-effective than most companies could manage alone.
An estimated 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside America's borders. In today's world, exporting is vital for businesses to succeed. Many West Virginia companies, large and small, are doing their part to reach that international market and keep the state's economy growing strong.
To adopt an old adage, if the world can't come to the Mountain State, the Mountain State will go to the world.
Tomblin is acting governor of West Virginia.