Experts of Export: Tracking Virginia’s Global Success
Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP)
Since 1995, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) has served the Commonwealth State as a valuable resource for local, domestic, and international businesses looking to grow and expand their business. Paul Grossman, vice president of international trade for the VEDP, sits down to talk about the widespread success companies of all industries in Virginia are able to have both inside the state and beyond. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Much like its physical landscape, the state of Virginia distinguishes itself from the rest of the country with its diverse, versatile business climate. While the state boasts over 500,000 small businesses, larger, industry-leading companies like Rolls Royce, Stihl, Northrup Grumman, and Hilton have also flocked to the state and set up major operations over the years, creating a flexible, dynamic economy that the rest of the country— and world by extension—have increasingly looked towards as a leading model of how to effectively grow and expand an economy in today’s modern world.
It’s not too surprising, especially when considering Virginia’s access to distinguished, local universities all over the state, the impact of having the nation’s capital abruptly to its north, and wide spanning access to the Atlantic Ocean to the east that has opened the door to international trade for decades. “Because of the logistical capabilities, innovative institutions, and close relationship with Washington D.C., the state of Virginia has set itself up as a trusted, advantageous location from which companies do business,” says Grossman, adding, “We’ve become a place that demands consideration, no matter the business or industry.”
To get a real sense of the balance that Virginia has established within its economy, look no further than the state’s export activity. While most exporting states are typically product-focused—compared to services— Virginia is nearly 50/50. “53 percent of Virginia’s exports are products, and the other 47 percent is services, which can be anything from environmental remediation to cyber security, healthcare, etc.” he says.
Fostering success for a company in the global market is a key part of the state’s allure, and organizations like the VEDP serve as the proactive facilitators of such. “If you had a room full of Virginia companies and asked those with dedicated market research departments to raise their hands, only one or two would be able to raise theirs,” says Grossman, adding, “And that’s the same case with just about every other state in the U.S. as well.”
What the VEDP can do is take companies from start to finish, from initial research to the final sale. “VEDP assists Virginia companies in increasing their international sales through a wide range of international trade development programs, which include market research available in 70+ countries, arranging international business trips, and offering programs like the Going Global Defense Initiative (GGDI) for defense contractors, and the marquee Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program.”
To show just what exactly these programs can do, let’s look at the GGDI program Grossman mentions. While one of the state’s biggest strengths is that it isn’t sector reliant, one of its largest and most prominent industries is defense contracting, given its close proximity to Washington and the fact that the Pentagon is headquartered in Virginia. In 2012, the U.S. saw its federal defense budget slashed and with this came significant consequences for those in the business of defense contracting.
“We have over 5,000 defense contractors here in Virginia, and many of them began to understandably panic when Department of Defense procurement began to dry up,” says Grossman, adding, “This was a big moment for one of our biggest sectors, and we stepped in and developed what’s known now as the Going Global Defense Initiative, or GGDI, a program designed to help our defense contractors find new revenue streams by finding customers overseas.”
The program now has over 300 Virginia-based defense companies in it, and with the current conflicts in the Middle East, and the potential for such to eventually occur in other parts of the world like Asia, new international business is emerging for participants. “The procurement cycles in the U.S. can be quite volatile at times, and the GGDI program was put in place to help our companies diversify their business,” Grossman says, adding, “The end result is a diversification of our state’s defense-related companies by getting them into new international markets, and thereby ensuring their long-term economic survival and continued ability to supply to U.S. defense forces.”
Identifying New Opportunities
But defense-related business isn’t the only outlet that Virginia companies are enjoying success with in the international market— not even close.
Through the VEDP’s VALET program, a company called Lansinoh Laboratories was able to sign an agreement with Mexico-based MEXEX in February to distribute its products in the country. “Since its inception in 2002, the VALET program has worked with more than 240 business to accelerate their international growth. Because of the program’s proven success and because jobs are created when Virginia companies sell more into global markets, it is important that we continue to assist local companies like Lansinoh through this program.”
Then, most recently, the VEDP announced that NOVA Power Solutions, a leading supplier of high-quality power solutions, has been able to increase sales by reaching customers in over 20 new countries. “Over the past few years, NOVA Power Solutions has pursued business in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, as well as elsewhere, and is now seeing the results come to fruition, which is exciting for all parties involved.”
Grossman says that while the VEDP and other state-based organizations are the main facilitators of such business growth, none of it would be possible without the commitment to quality and innovation that companies in Virginia have become known for. “Whether it’s the infrastructure, R&D, education, or overall workforce, Virginia is able to guarantee the critical combination of resources that are necessary to both a business’ short and long-term prosperity.”
Virginia’s responsiveness as a state to its companies while providing resource-rich assistance in growing their businesses should serve as a model that many other states, and even countries, perhaps, may want to take a look at, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected in trade and business. Nevertheless, it’s truly an exciting time to be doing business in the Commonwealth, and as the state continues to surge in economic success, the streams of both companies choosing to move into the state and the existing businesses exporting their products and services globally should continue to swell.
ABOUT PAUL GROSSMAN
Paul H. Grossman, Jr. currently serves the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Vice President of International Trade for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). In this capacity, he is responsible for developing and implementing the Commonwealth’s international strategy for the promotion of Virginia products and services to markets worldwide via export sales. With over 30 years of international business experience, Paul’s responsibilities have spanned directing U.S. states international business recruitment programs and managing county economic development programs. Paul has lived, and traveled extensively, abroad. He holds a Master of International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.