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Advanced Thermal Systems in Lancaster is preparing to ship $250,000 worth of pipe expansion joints to China for use in a petrochemical plant.

The company's 50 ball joints will allow pipes that carry steam to expand due to thermal changes.

Advanced Thermal several years ago shipped products to China for use in another petrochemical plant. The Lancaster company works through a California-based sales representative whose firm has offices in China.

"China's economy is growing, and China's becoming much more modernized," said Ed Patnode, vice president and general manager.

Advanced Thermal's size -- 30 employees and $5 million in annual sales -- illustrates that even a small company can tap into a vast market such as China, with the proper preparation.

"We've seen a lot of interest in China over the past year," said Holly Sinnott, executive director of the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara.

Exports account for about 10 to 15 percent of 33-year-old Advanced Thermal's annual sales, though the percentage varies year to year. Patnode said small businesses such as his that are interested in exporting to China need to learn to be patient.

"The people in China don't do anything quickly. They take a lot of time researching your products," he said. But once a product gains acceptance, he said, that can open the door to future work.

Sinnott said her organization advises companies interested in international trade to consider it a long-term endeavor. "A lot of the work up-front is just doing your homework," she said.

A small company looking to export has to think carefully about the costs associated with doing business overseas, the
specific product needs of that market and issues such as the ability to move goods in that country and understanding the tariffs and duties.

Patnode said working with a sales representative familiar with China can take care of a lot of that legwork. "They know the engineering firms, the contractors," he said.

Buffalo-based ABC Companies, an accounts receivable management and commercial collections firm, grew to the point where it decided it needed to have its own sales and service office in Shanghai. It's preparing to open another office in Beijing.

"That allows us to be more in touch with the domestic Chinese market," said Paul Catalano, president of ABC Companies.

ABC started out working with clients who exported to China, but has broadened its business to include Chinese companies keen on exporting, he said.

Sinnott noted that the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara offers a program that teaches companies about exporting. Seven small businesses are currently enrolled in the nine-month program, which is also sponsored by Empire State Development Corp. and Niagara Mohawk.


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