WINTER 1998 Montanan - Volume 15, Number 2
by Kim Anderson
The Huckleberry People, Hunter Bay Coffee Roasters, NORWEST Bank and Plum Creek Timber Company are vastly different businesses, handling everything from coffee roasting to money-lending. But they have one thing in common. They're all anxious to export their products or expertise overseas. And they're all member companies of the Montana World Trade Center.
Missoula, Montana, may not come to mind as readily as London, New York or Hong Kong as a world trade center, but according to Arnold Sherman, the center's executive director, there's no reason that, given the right help, Montana businesses can't compete in the global arena. The affable and fluent Sherman is so sure of the capabilities of Montana businesses that he left a successful career in brokering international trade deals to head the center.
Located in UM's spanking new Gallagher Building, the center works with more than forty member companies to determine international trade possibilities and export strategies. "My philosophy is, it's as easy to sell a product in Thailand as it is in Virginia, especially if you're located in Montana," Sherman says. "There are at least a hundred businesses in this state that have world-class potential."
The only member of the global World Trade Center Association located on a university campus, the center takes advantage of the University System's expertise while operating in consort with 320 world trade centers in ninety-seven countries. The umbrella organization, the World Trade Centers Association, headquartered in the World Trade Center in New York City, gives Montana businesses immediate access to international trade opportunities.
"We are very service-oriented," Sherman says. "We don't just offer a set array of services. We work out a marketing plan for each member."
From the Hi-Line to the High Seas
It makes perfect sense to Sherman to have a world trade center in Montana. "We're serving a large population. It's just more spread out than in other areas," he says.
"The state has about 880,000 people. We're far away from the major urban centers. And there's only so much the state and federal governments can do."
In addition to opening up global trade opportunities for Montana businesses, Sherman says reaching out to all of the businesses in a state this size has been challenging. "Not all businesses are members of a chamber of commerce or attend trade conferences. I've had to do legwork to connect on this end, not just on the overseas end."
Sherman, who spent much of his first few months on the job meeting with community business leaders and civic groups, says he was amazed at how open Montana businesspeople were to the concept of global sales. "I think we've been successful proving that a world trade center is viable in a small community if interest in, and a need for access to, international markets exists," he says.
What doesn't surprise him is the positive reception to Montana businesses overseas. He recently returned from a Far East trade mission with U.S. Senator Max Baucus and is planning a trip to Latin America this spring.
"We are in a truly global marketplace," he says. "It doesn't matter where you are located; the fastest growing business sectors have very little to do with traditional import/export. Global trade today means more than just exporting grain. It also includes services and consulting in engineering, technology, health care, real estate development and mining industries. In the past the only hurdle was that there wasn't much resource support. We're here to change that."
The recent partnership between the center and the United States Ex-Im (export-import) Bank, an independent agency of the federal government with a special focus on aiding small businesses, should provide Montana businesses with financial support for overseas ventures.
Sherman became executive director of the center in spring 1997, after working as an international business consultant for many years. During the previous seven years, as president of Global Development Services, he provided trade and business development services to multinational clients like Marriott, Simon & Schuster and steel producer CSX. As a consultant for transportation giant Sealand Services, he pioneered U.S. business entry into Russia in 1988. And in 1983, he founded the American Center for International Leadership, an organization dedicated to forging links among the next generation of world trade leaders, which he chaired from 1990 to 1992.
"What attracted me to the position with the Montana World Trade Center was the challenge to apply what I'd learned over the years," he says. "Frankly, I was surprised that there weren't more people like me here already. It's an incredibly beautiful and interesting environment with an active ongoing dialogue about the pros and cons of growth."
The chance to teach again also was alluring. Sherman teaches international marketing as an adjunct professor in UM's School of Business Administration. He also helps the center's student interns learn the basics of international trade. Along with the professional staff, interns work with Montana businesses to research international development opportunites. "It's a great experience for the kids and for us," Sherman says.
"I hadn't had a chance to teach regularly since 1982, and I've realized again just how enjoyable it is," he says. "I think one of the things I bring to the classroom is my vast experience in the real world."
The ABCs of International Marketing
As an example of how a small firm can think internationally, Sherman points to Montana Silver Springs Inc., a bottled-water company based in Philipsburg.
"Every state has bottled water," Sherman explains. "It all sells for the same price. But Montana is too small a market to be successful selling water at home. Neighboring states all have their own bottled water, making it tough to compete. It's more viable to take the product to Asia than to Colorado. In Asia, you can't compete with the lower-end bottled water, but with the right marketing plan you can sell it on the high end."
"We shouldn't see ourselves as geographically challenged," he adds. "Moving into the global marketplace doesn't necessarily require millions of dollars. Businesses need assistance in applying information to their market objectives. I bring that set of skills and a Rolodex to this job."
Sherman says the question he is most frequently asked is, "What's the hottest new market?"
"There's no short answer," he says. "Two hundred sixty-six political entities exist around the globe, and there are opportunities everywhere. Markets are emerging in Russia and Central Europe, in Southeast Asia, in Latin America. Latin America, in particular, is looking at some of the same extraction industries with which Montanans have experience. Vietnam looks like a great growth market; it reminds me of Russia ten years ago in terms of opportunity.
"The opportunities are real; they're out there," Sherman says with a smile. "And I'm not short on confidence."
Kim Anderson is a regular contributor to The Journal of Commerce.