Three weeks into his new job as director of Mississippi’s U.S. Export Assistance Center, Bill Morris has already acquired an impressive stack of business cards from people he has met in his travels around the state.
“People here are very aware of what exporting means to their state and how it affects economic development,” said Morris, a native of Waco, Texas.
Morris and the U.S. Export Assistance Center offer personalized assistance to companies interested in exporting to foreign countries. The center is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Service. There is no typical day for Morris, who divides his time between traveling the state to meet with potential exporters and people involved in economic development and fielding calls and meeting clients in the office. Sometimes his job is arranging a trade mission, other times it’s resolving a dispute.
“A company may call up and say ‘My shipment was delayed. Can you help me get it released from customs?’” said Morris. “Or another company might call and say, ‘I want to start exporting shoes. What do I do?’ We’re the go-to agency.”
Morris replaced Bill Scaggs, who took a job with the East Mississippi Development Corp. Before accepting his new job in July, Morris was general manager and director of international sales for a Texas-based engineering and manufacturing company, where he was responsible for setting up overseas trade missions and developing new export markets. His job took him to Asia, Europe, Central America and South America. Morris said he felt instantly at home in Mississippi, whose products and people are similar to his home state.
Besides one-on-one counseling, Morris can coordinate a video conference in his office at the Mississippi World Trade Center in Jackson between a Mississippi company and a potential foreign customer. He can also arrange for a local company to exhibit at a foreign trade show in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s pavilion.
For $50 a year, companies can participate in a match-making service at the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Web site, www.buyusa.com. U.S. companies post their profile for foreign customers and find qualified international buyers. All companies, U.S. and foreign, must register and be approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce before they can appear on the Web site.
For companies on the verge of exporting to a specific country, Gold Key Service can be arranged by the export center. Morris and his counterpart in the desired country schedule meetings with a slate of potential customers who have been pre-screened. A commercial specialist escorts the company’s staff to each appointment.
Sunshine Mills Inc., a pet food manufacturer based in Ridgeland, used the Gold Key Service to meet potential buyers in Japan, where they found some promising leads, said John Henry Jackson, export administrator for Sunshine Mills. Sunshine Mills exports mainly to Eastern Europe, South America and Southeast Asia and has relied on the export center for assistance for years. When the company was deciding whom to use for export credit insurance, for example, they attended a seminar hosted by the center.
“It was a good opportunity to meet contacts in the area that deal with international banking,” said Jackson. “The center is definitely an asset to us.”
The Mississippi Export Assistance Center has about 300 clients and Morris is adding more as he travels the state. As the go-to man, his job is to stay up-to-date on the latest politics of foreign countries, so that he can best advise his clients on exporting.
“International trade is so dynamic,” he said. “Geopolitical shifts rarely make headlines. (Exporting) is not just a matter of getting on an airplane. There are actions going on all the time…countries are working daily to help their companies compete in the global economy.”
One example is the new requirements the Chinese government has mandated for companies who export their products into China. Manufacturers in 132 product categories must now obtain a compulsory certification which requires an extensive application process (up to 90 days or more). Products not meeting the new requirements may be held at the border by Chinese Customs and subject to penalties.
The export center will host a half-day seminar, “Meeting China’s New Customs Regulations – A Guide for U.S. Exporters” on Friday, Aug. 8, at the World Trade Center in Jackson for Mississippi businesses who are already exporting or who anticipate exporting to China. For more information about the seminar or to make a reservation, call Ann Atkins at (601) 353-0909 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at email@example.com.