Jackson — Increasing membership and expanding visibility into all areas of the state are the current initiatives of the Mississippi World Trade Center. The four-year-old organization is growing and still getting its message out to the state’s businesses.
“Getting the word out is an educational process,” says executive director Barbara Travis. “We’re here to help businesses sell their goods and services and be more efficient and profitable doing it.”
The Delta is one part of the state where the MSWTC is reaching out. There’s a focus on agribusiness but Travis says there are many other companies who could be exporting, too.
“I’ve been in the Delta three times in less than two months and working with the Delta Council, Regions Bank and other organizations there,” she said. “We see it as potentially a good area with a good bit of exporting that can be done.”
She’s delighted that Delta State University is getting more involved and is developing an international business program. She gave a presentation on rural development and entrepreneurship at the Cleveland school.
The trade center also hopes to be more active in the Meridian area, and is planning the next women’s conference there in March 2007 to coincide with International Women’s Day. Pascagoula shipbuilder Northrop Grumman partners with the MSWTC to sponsor the every-other-year event.
But activities won’t be confined to a few parts of Mississippi. “We’re trying to work with all our partners to go all over the state,” Travis said. “We want to broaden our horizons and reach out to pockets of business and areas we’re not reaching. We look for opportunities all the time all over the state.”
Travis has spent the past four years presenting the MSWTC’s story to audiences statewide. At first people had no concept of the organization’s mission. The educational process has become easier and she says now it’s rare that someone hasn’t heard of the trade center.
“My challenge now is building our membership. We haven’t had a campaign; it’s just been by word of mouth,” she said. “I felt we had to develop a strong product before we could have a membership campaign. I plan to spend more time targeting small businesses for membership.”
The first membership campaign will kick off May 1 and run through October 31. Dr. O.A. Cleveland of Starkville and Syndi Saia of Greenwood will co-chair the campaign. Cleveland is a retired Mississippi State University professor and owns two export companies, and Saia is international sales director for Viking Range.
A special edition Peavey guitar, Viking cookware and a Viking blender are offered as prizes to entice members to help spread the word.
The MSWTC currently has 165 members with dues structured for businesses of all sizes. The roster includes manufacturers, service providers, engineers, banks, architects, construction companies and some members who simply want to learn more about international trade, protocol and other cultures.
“We have members that are involved with international trade and some that are not. We’re predominantly made up of small to medium businesses that interact with international companies,” Travis said. “Many join to learn more about international trade and some just love the networking. We have corporate members that provide support and sponsorship.”
The organization, an arm of economic development for the state, works closely with local chambers of commerce and economic developers to make businesses aware of the MSWTC’s objectives. Additionally, the state’s universities are asking the trade center to participate in international-related programs as the educational institutions become more involved in economic development.
The membership campaign’s success will be celebrated at a November luncheon that will take the place of the yearly luncheon usually held in May. At that event, transportation and logistics will be saluted for the crucial role they play in exporting and economic development.
“We’re planning this with state trade specialists because transportation and logistics keep coming up as a concern of companies,” Travis said. “We did a tribute to transportation at our last May luncheon and it went over well.”
The MSWTC interacts with other world trade centers in North America and gets information from the 300 located in 90 countries around the world. “It’s exciting and expands our opportunities,” Travis said. “We can call on them.”
She recently attended an annual meeting of the North American world trade centers in Tacoma, Wash., and invited the group of about 125 people to hold their next conference in Mississippi. “I put in a proposal and will find out in May,” she said. “If they don’t pick us, that’s okay. I’ll propose it every year until they do.”
The MSWTC’s mission is to focus on enhancing international trade, investment, tourism, arts and cultural awareness in Mississippi and the mid-South region.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.