Looking Towards The Future: Indy's Faces of Global Trade

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Last week, the Indy Chamber hosted one of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top experts on global trade: Derek Gianino, Director of International Policy for the U.S. Chamber, who came to Indianapolis to hear from local employers and promote the national "Faces of Trade" initiative, a campaign to tell the real-life stories of American workers, employers and entrepreneurs who benefit from international business.

It's a message that makes sense in Indianapolis, home to more than 100,000 Hoosier faces of trade - workers whose jobs depend on exports or foreign direct investment. The Indy region sold roughly $10 billion in goods and services to global customers last year, and ranks among the top 25 (versus the hundred largest U.S. metros) in export value, intensity, and employment by foreign-owned companies.

These faces are confident about the future, too: Exporters and foreign employers tend to invest more in R&D, hire more skilled workers in technology, science and engineering, and pay an average of 20 percent more than domestic-focused firms. Indy's recent growth in advanced industry jobs matches up with strong exports in the same sectors of our economy.

Gianino's visit comes as the U.S. Chamber is stepping up its efforts to combat anti-trade rhetoric and policies. A renegotiation of NAFTA looms in the very near future; at last count, countries involved in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were involved in 27 trade deals with one another since the U.S. withdrew from the 12-nation pact in January.

Protectionism is a convenient but counterproductive response to economic turmoil. The fact is that automation - robotics and computerized equipment - is the culprit for nine of every ten lost production jobs. And we can't turn back the clock on technology to resurrect the old-school assembly line.

We can't turn our backs on the rest of the world, either. Ninety percent of Indy exports are manufactured products, and 90 percent of the world's customers now live outside the U.S.  Creating new, high-tech manufacturing jobs means a strategy of more trade, not less.

So our business community was eager to exchange ideas with Mr. Gianino, and the Indy Chamber supports the U.S. Chamber’s fight for free, fair trade.  But regardless of the national climate, Indianapolis is part of the global economy - and we're pushing forward with a regional strategy for international success.

These plans include encouraging more Indianapolis companies to explore foreign markets. While Indy's export rankings owe a lot to our multi-national heavyweights, more than 1,500 local businesses are exporting - and with the help of the Brookings Institution, we've identified a similar number of potential exporters that could benefit from technical assistance, marketing support and other services.

One such program is the Indy Chamber's "GoGlobal" Export Acceleration Grants. Supported by JPMorgan Chase, GoGlobal grants target mid-market companies with matching funds up to $5,000 to support export growth activities. 

Announced earlier this summer, the latest round of winners include M&M Competition Engines, which engineers high-performance engines for motorsports, where Indianapolis is a world leader. M&M will pursue international opportunities without traveling far from the "Racing Capital of the World," by exhibiting at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) tradeshow this fall.

Word Systems is pioneering voice and text data technologies. To help sell its iRecord system overseas, Word will use its GoGlobal grant to access expertise and technical assistance through the Export Indiana Fellowship program, a joint efforts of the Indiana Small Business Development Corporation (ISBDC) and Purdue University's Krannert School.  

Hodei Technologies has developed secure, real-time audiovisual tools that allow medical teams to collaborate on patient care - even if they're hundreds of miles away from one another. Its GoGlobal grant will help continue and expand its promising forays into Canada with its healthcare communications solutions.

Helmer Scientific is both a healthcare and high-tech manufacturing firm, producing sophisticated temperature-controlled storage equipment for labs, blood banks and other facilities. Exports already account for roughly one of every $5 in sales at Helmer Scientific, but the Noblesville-based company sees unrealized potential in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and will use its GoGlobal grant to participate in the high-profile MEDICA 2017 medical conference in Germany.

These are just a few of Indy's emerging "faces of trade" - a growing share of our economy. With so many success stories and so much untapped potential for exports and foreign investment in the Indianapolis region, we'll continue to think globally and act locally - toppling or lowering every possible barrier for employers and workers to compete (and win) across the world.

Maureen Krauss is chief economic development officer at the Indy Chamber.

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