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Trade missions uncover export opportunities for Alabama companies

For Alabama-based manufacturer Sealing Equipment Products Co., or SEPCO, selling its mechanical seals, gasketing materials, compression packing and other high-performance products in markets around the world has become a core element of its business.

Today, SEPCO ships products to customers in approximately 40 different countries, and Chief Executive Officer Chris Wilder is hoping to expand its exporting activities.

“We have maintained a robust exporting program for a number of years and have always had the attitude that only 20% of our potential market is in the U.S.,” he said.

As he works to expand SEPCO’s exporting activity, Wilder has leaned on the Alabama Department of Commerce, whose Office of International Trade offers companies the resources and programs to go global.

“It’s hard work and expensive to expand internationally but that’s where the Alabama Department of Commerce has been such a great partner,” Wilder said.

“They’ve really helped us with some projects that we just wouldn’t have undertaken without them.”

Alabama trade missions
Chris Wilder and Alabaster-based SEPCO have participated in a half dozen trade missions organized by the Alabama Department of Commerce and Export Alabama. (Image: Chris Wilder)

Over the years, Commerce has been active in organizing dozens of trade missions allowing Alabama companies to identify attractive markets and make new connections all over the world.

Wilder said SEPCO has participated in several of these missions, seeking opportunities in countries including Spain, Morocco, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Peru, U.A.E., Australia, Philippines and Singapore.

“Trade missions are a great way to get an initial start on trying to develop some commercial trade in a country that you have no experience with,” Wilder said.

‘OPENING DOORS’

“Exporting is a fundamental economic pillar that supports growth in our state.”



Christina Stimpson, director of Commerce’s Office of International Trade, said trade missions can save companies valuable time and resources by maximizing contact with prospective distributors, sales representatives, or partners.

These trade missions, organized in concert with Export Alabama partners, offer unique access to decision-makers and business executives around the world that are critical to forging lasting and successful business relationships, she added.

“We are leading the charge to ensure that Alabama companies are directly connected to the resources they need to access foreign markets and develop rewarding export opportunities,” Stimpson said.

“Trade missions are all about opening doors and exploring new opportunities on an international level.”

In September 2022, Commerce led a delegation of Alabama small businesses on a trade mission to Germany, the first overseas mission of that kind since 2019.

But Commerce expects to return to a full trade mission schedule in 2023:

  • Australia’s AVALON Air Show (Melbourne), Feb. 27-March 3
  • SEUS-Canadian Provinces Joint Meeting (Newfoundland and Labrador), July 23-25
  • Colombia (Bogota and Cartagena), August
  • SEUS-Japan Joint Annual Meeting (Tokyo), October
  • Nordic Life Sciences Days (Copenhagen, Denmark), Nov. 29-30
trade mission Germany
While in Germany, Commerce Sec. tells German business leaders how his department and the state helped support small and medium-size businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said providing support for increased exporting activity is a strategic priority for the department.

“Exporting is a fundamental economic pillar that supports growth in our state. The increased demand for Alabama-made products and services around the globe underscores the success of our dynamic economy,” Secretary Canfield said.

“The more that Alabama goods and services are the product or solution of choice around the world, the more jobs, greater revenue and better wages for Alabama businesses and workers,” he said.

COMPANY IMPACT

Kirk Atkinson, president of Adah International, an industrial engineering and project management services firm, said the recent Germany trade mission unearthed new possibilities for his Birmingham company.

“The Made in Alabama team put together an immersive trade mission for us in Germany. We not only met but also began collaboration with new German customers and partners,” Atkinson said.

He added: “We returned with a fresh outlook, and new opportunities, for the future of Alabama — German trade.”

SEPCO’s Wilder said the trade missions are designed with the success of the export-minded companies in mind.

“The prework market research to help set up potential prospect meetings is really great and then the guidance and support on the logistics of the actual meetings just makes it even better,” he said. “They’ll even provide translation services if language is an issue.”

In addition, SEPCO has worked with Commerce through the Alabama State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) to expand its export opportunities with a Spanish language web site and cost offsets for export insurance fees. STEP can also help defray the cost of participating in a trade mission.

“I can’t say enough about the value the trade missions provide for the right company with the right situation,” Wilder said.

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