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Global Diversity Mission Generates Export Opportunities for West Virginia Businesses

Three West Virginia companies participated in the Global Diversity Export Initiative Trade Mission to Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia in March and discovered potential partnership opportunities through targeted business matchmaking.  

Focused in Panama, the mission’s accompanying Business Conference provided targeted information on opportunities available to minority and women-owned businesses in Central and South America. Speakers from local chambers of commerce, Latin American private sector businesses and government agencies in both the U.S. and Central America, shared their insight, wisdom and experiences with the participants. Information included regional economic outlooks, protections against unfair trade practices, government procurement processes and special considerations available to minority and women-owned businesses. Running concurrently during the conference presentations, participants met with Senior Commercial Officers from embassies in North, South and Central America. This opportunity provided companies with information on market potential in a variety of countries and helped participants explore possibilities and develop market entry strategies.   

The week-long mission culminated in direct business matchmaking appointments in either Panama or one of the spinoff countries, Colombia or Costa Rica. These dynamic and growing markets present opportunities for expansion and are well-placed in the region for exporters to take advantage of both the Central and South American markets. For West Virginia companies, Appalachian Botanical Company in Ashford, Med-Surg Physicians Group Inc, in Beckley and Metropolitan Executive Dogs in Kearneysville, the chance to meet one-on-one with potential business partners was crucial to their participation in this mission. Business appointments were scheduled in advance by the U.S. Commercial Service Trade Specialists and held in a hotel ballroom over the course of one day. Each participant had a full schedule of back to back meetings and each reported they were happy with the quality of their appointment schedule. It was busy, it was productive and it was informative! Company representatives from all three exporters felt their meetings could lead to successful sales of their products and services.

West Virginia Exporters Reflect on Trade Mission to Panama

Jocelyn Sheppard, President of Appalachian Botanical Company, a body care and aromatherapy manufacturer with a speciality in lavender scented products, said, “I am very grateful to have participated in the trade mission to Panama and Costa Rica. I can’t imagine making such rapid headway with potential Central American customers – and with understanding the ins and outs of exporting – without  the help of the U.S. Commercial Service team and their West Virginia counterparts!”

Reflecting on his first experience with a trade mission, Yannick Ernsting of Metropolitan Executive Dogs, a breeder and provider of dog training services for personal, law enforcement and therapeutic roles, said “Metropolitan Executive Dogs relies mostly on our reputation and word of mouth advertising. However, to expand into places where we have not yet established our brand, participating in an event like the GDEI Mission to Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia provides our company with the key connections to begin those conversations.”   

During the mission, Dr. Olu Sangodeyi, owner of Med-Surg Physicians Group, Inc. reported very successful initial meetings with potential clients, and had this to say, “As a provider of healthcare consulting services, meeting with the right people is crucial to Med-Surg Physician Group’s success in a new market.  I was pleased with the quality of meetings on the GDEI Trade Mission and am optimistic as to my success in the region.”

Global Diversity Export Initiative Supports Companies with Diverse Ownership

According to a 2023 study commissioned by the Small Business Association, 1.3 million small businesses, often defined as those with fewer than 500 employees, export their products and services to international markets. However, those numbers dip considerably when considering the number of businesses in underserved communities exporting from the United States. Businesses in underserved communities are those described as having 51 percent ownership falling into one or more of the following categories: African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native American, veteran and service-disabled veteran, women or LGBTQI+. For these demographics, the number of exporting businesses is much lower. 

With this perspective in mind, the U.S. Commercial Service created the Global Diversity Export Initiative, to support companies with diverse ownership to achieve export success. This support includes organizing events like the Global Diversity Export Initiative Trade Mission to Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia. Looking to also serve these underserved communities with targeted assistance to grow their exports, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development supported the three West Virginia businesses on this trade mission.

The initial success of the Global Diversity Export Initiative Trade Mission highlights the potential for small businesses, particularly those led by minorities, women, veterans and other marginalized groups, to thrive on the international stage. Through informative conference sessions, targeted business matchmaking, and insightful discussions with trade experts, businesses like Appalachian Botanical Company, Med-Surg Physicians Group Inc and Metropolitan Executive Dogs are poised for success in Central and South America. Participation in events like this, help to pave the way for meaningful partnerships and sustainable international growth for West Virginia small businesses. Companies interested in joining future trade missions led by the U.S. Commercial Service and the West Virginia Department of Economic Development should reach out to one of our international trade managers to learn more about upcoming opportunities.

Caitlin Ashley-Lizarraga

By Caitlin Ashley-Lizarraga

Manager, International Trade

Caitlin works with the West Virginia Department of Economic Development’s Export Promotion Program. She helps introduce the world to the hidden gem of West Virginia one export at a time.

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