In Focus: Christopher Johnston, World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara president - The Buffalo News
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In Focus: Christopher Johnston, World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara president

Selling goods and services in foreign markets might sound wildly unrealistic to many small businesses in Western New York. But there’s a local organization that aims to remove barriers to global trade. World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara works with many local companies. President Christopher Johnston talked with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer about efforts to promote exporting. Here is a summary of some of the issues in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full interview at

Meyer: When we talk about exporting to foreign countries, we often think of billion-dollar companies with sprawling plants. Are there economic opportunities for the smaller and medium-sized businesses in Western New York?

Johnston: I think most people do, in fact, think of the bigger, larger companies in town. But, really, the true opportunities are for the small- and medium-sized companies that maybe haven’t explored the international market or are currently doing business in maybe one market like Canada. Tremendous opportunities for growth in those companies to further their sales, get involved with more market share and really increase employment and revenue opportunities for Western New York.

Meyer: Are there some geographic pockets and some business sectors that are particularly lending themselves to exporting?

Johnston: From a geographic standpoint, Canada is obviously our largest trading partner … But certainly you have your emerging markets – your Brazils, Russias, Indias and Chinas. Increasingly, you’ve got a number of markets that are great opportunities for companies … Colombia, Vietnam, Peru, Thailand, Singapore, Korea offer tremendous opportunities – less regulatory hurdles than (some other countries) and can really increase the bottom line for companies.

Meyer: Let’s talk about the complexity of connecting those dots across oceans. What does the World Trade Center do?

Johnston: Primarily, we do three things. We like to focus on networking – making sure we put people in touch with the right people to do business with in order to facilitate international commerce. Two, helping companies find agents or distributors overseas, helping them through the regulatory hurdles that occur when you’re getting your goods from Point A to B. And then the supply chain aspect: How do you get your goods … to your final destination, say, in Thailand?

Meyer: What about government at various levels: local, state federal … Is enough being done to facilitate exporting?

Johnston: At the local level in Erie County, certainly the county executive has recognized the importance of international trade and binational (with) our trading partners up in Canada.

At the state level, I still think we need some more work focusing on international trade. New York is the third-largest export market in the United States. But from a resource standpoint, we tend not to focus as many resources as maybe we should.

At the federal level, I think the feds have a focus on export. They’re trying to double the number of exports over five years. I think a lot of progress has been made in that direction. Of course, the weak dollar policy has helped that. But certainly … at the local level, we’re starting to really get it.

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