Increasing International Exports is Key to State's Economic Development Plan

A recent update on Connecticut’s Economic Development Strategy includes a strong focus on international economic development, including upcoming efforts to extend business in Israel, Canada and France as part of broader plans to strengthen Connecticut’s brand in the global markets and grow the state’s trade footprint abroad.

As described by Beatriz Gutierrez, director of international business development efforts at the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the department’s vision is “to position Connecticut as the destination of choice for companies looking to establish North American presence with preference to those in the areas of bioscience, precision manufacturing, fuel cells and renewable, and those looking to establish North American headquarters.”

The primary geographic targets for the state are China (which Gov. Malloy visited last year and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill visited last month), Germany and Western Europe (including the Paris Air Show this month), Israel (a CT-Israel Tech Summit will be held in Connecticut on June 12), and Brazil.  Goals include developing an international brand for the state, building an “opportunity pipeline,” and strengthening the relationship management process.

Meetings have been held with more than 50 companies and cluster associations in key industry segments, and a “concierge” program has been introduced in Europe.  During fiscal year 2012, DECD assisted in business exports to 39 countries for 62 state coCT boothmpanies, according to the DECD update.  The total assisted value of $548.6 million would equate to 2,785 jobs, according to DECD.  The department’s presentation added that unreported dollar amounts could account for “another 300 to 400 jobs, or more.”

The state has also been working closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration on international business growth, including the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program.  Among the initiatives in Connecticut are a SBA pilot-grant to help small businesses increase exports, and efforts to assist businesses with participation in regional and industry focused export opportunities and international business development opportunities. Connecticut received grant awards of $546,822 in the first year and $339,319 in the second year, supporting 178 Connecticut companies with partial reimbursements for international business initiatives.

At a trade show in Hannover, Germany in April, for example, the state’s booth featured five Connecticut hydrogen and fuel cell companies, which officials say produced strong leads from both Germany and Canada. Later this month, Connecticut will have a presence at the Hydrogen + Fuel Cells Conference in Vancouver, with three state companies on hand, and at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, with 13 companies slated to be present at Connecticut’s booth.  It is the state’s eighth consecutive year at the air show, and $162 million in new business has been reported by the companies who exhibit under the Connecticut display umbrella.

Earlier this year, DECD reported that Connecticut is home to “691 foreign affiliates” employing 106,500 in the state.  At the time, exports were said to exceed $16 billion annually. More recent data indicate that exports dropped about two percent between FY 2011 and FY2012, from $16.21 billion to $15.86 billion.  Next steps outlined by the state in the May 22, 2013 update include implementing a statewide international activity scorecard, monitoring global trends and identifying potential “sweet spots,” and strengthening strategic partnerships.