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Export bonanza: Monroe reaches record $169 million

October 4, 2014

MONROE, La. (AP) — Paper products made in the Monroe area find their way to Japan, China, Central America and Canada.

Vehicle lift-kits manufactured in West Monroe are increasingly being used in Dubai.

There’s a growing demand for locally produced baby products in Germany.

The Monroe area is enjoying an export resurgence.

Merchandise exports for the Monroe metropolitan area reached a record high of $168.6 million in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. That was up about $23 million — 16 percent — from 2012.

The figure has climbed steadily since a low of $82 million in 2009.

“Exports are up, and that’s good news for businesses pursuing new export horizons,” Donald van de Werken director of the U.S. Commercial Service in New Orleans, said. “If your business has a good track record of selling throughout the United States, it’s likely your company could make the leap into selling abroad.”

Van de Werken said the businesses making the most impact in the Monroe area have one thing in common. “Every one of those companies are small and medium size, and they’re really driving international trade,” he said. “Although the big companies have a larger share, the small and medium size companies are seeing trade all over the world.”

Top exports for this area include paper, machinery, plastic and rubber products, chemicals and primary metals.

According to ITA, the main trading partners are in Asia.

. “U.S. companies of all sizes are exploring the possible benefits of exporting, and looking beyond our borders to expand their customer base,” Under-Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Stefan M. Selig in a news release. “More than 95 percent of potential consumers live outside the United States and crave the world-class products offered by American businesses.”

Ouachita Terminals, a shipping port in West Monroe, handles much of the area’s exports.

“Primarily, what we get is paper from Graphic Packaging,” said Rick Chambless. “Most of our containers go to Japan, with a few going to Australia.”

Chambless said they load containers onto trains to Los Angeles, where they are sent on to Japan.

Sawyer Industrial Plastics is another company pursuing more opportunities around the world.

“About 25 percent of our business is export related,” sales manager Debbie Sawyer said. She said Sawyer has 42 representatives worldwide and ships to nearly every continent.

“We have been in Canada since we started in 1979, and we opened up to the world market in 1993,” she said.

The company is working on exports because U.S. markets are sluggish, she said: “We are finding that the U.S. business in the past five years has gotten much slower. People are holding onto their money more and the international market is continuing to grow.”

Skyjacker, an aftermarket vehicle lift-kit manufacturer in West Monroe, is also looking to expand its sales overseas.

“One of our larger exports goes to Dubai,” said Vice-President Lonnie McCurry, Jr. He said exports make up 10 percent of Skyjacker’s business, but the sector “started at nothing and continues to grow. We’ve seen a big increase in the last five years.”

Virendra Chhikara, senior business consultant with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center in Monroe, said he works with several companies in the heavy equipment industry and distributors of baby products.

“There’s a big demand of baby products in Germany,” Chhikara said. “Most of my businesses are focusing in Canada or Germany. I’m actually working with some clients right now in finding markets for them in Europe.”

Europe is a well-tapped market for Euroboard, a paper product manufacturer in Monroe, said its president, Bill Kight.

“The European market is obviously the biggest for us, it’s right in the name,” Kight joked. “We also ship to China, Central America and Canada.”

Euroboard’s main export is a special type of liner board, but they also ship specialty paper products.

Exports “are half of our sales,” Kight said. “It’s reasonably stable but it is growing a little bit. It is all tied to the value of the U.S. dollar. That’s what determines whether you sell or not. The price is unreasonable for customers if the dollar is too high.”

Sawyer said technological advances have let her company easily pursue overseas growth through such software products as FaceTime, LinkedIn and Skype.

“Because of the Internet, we have the ability to communicate much more than we could prior to it,” she said. “Instead of getting on a plane and traveling, I can communicate with my representatives quickly.”

Van de Werken said the geographical location and economic advancement of Monroe provide an interesting opportunity for growth.

“I think (Monroe) is in a unique location that is well-positioned within the United States,” he said. “The expansion of junior colleges and the university system there always helps. So those are the kind of things that drive the international economy. Logistics, transportation, good location and good work ethics are all positives that make Monroe very attractive.”

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com

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