“A big business can walk into a bank, get in the door and probably even end up with financing for an overseas investment. But for a small business, it is particularly challenging,” Lawrence Spinelli, OPIC’s Director of Public Affairs, (pictured) noted at the start of OPIC’s Expanding Horizons Seminar last month in Southern California.
The Expanding Horizons event for small businesses entering international markets, drew 170 participants from 10 states, making it the largest yet in a series that in recent years has educated more than 1,200 small and medium-sized business owners about the finance and insurance products OPIC offers to help them gain access to emerging markets overseas.
In his introductory remarks, Spinelli noted that OPIC decided about 10 years ago to make a special effort to work with small businesses, which are often particularly challenged expanding overseas. “I’m pleased to say that now, 80 to 85% of the projects we do every year are with small and medium-sized enterprises,” he said.
Another speaker, Jeff Williamson (pictured, below), the statewide director for the Center for International Trade Development (CITD) in California, stressed that the overseas opportunity for U.S. small businesses was “absolutely incredible,” and also under-utilized. Although there are some 70,000 businesses in California that are exporting their goods and services, he said that total equates to just two percent of all the businesses in California. By contrast, he said that in Germany, 50 percent of all the small businesses are exporters.
“We have to change our perspective of where our next customers are coming from,” said Williamson. “We have to venture out and find our next customers in these high-growth areas like Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.”
Williamson added: “Looking at foreign markets for customers has not been essential for most small and medium sized businesses, but I am going to suggest that in the next decade, it is going to become a matter of survival.”