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Exports touted as tonic for slow economy Trade group aims to help access foreign markets

Speed Global Services used to count on General Motors for a lot of business.

If that were still the case, it might have spelled trouble for the Town of Tonawanda logistics company, given GM's struggles. But Speed has diversified its operations over the years and has found lots of opportunities serving Canada. As a result, its local employment has risen to more than 100 people, said Carl Savarino, Speed's president.

"We've built our business around the international aspect," Savarino said.

World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara hopes more area businesses will emulate Speed and consider exporting as a way to escape the economic doldrums and create jobs at home.

The business development group and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, on Friday announced $150,000 in state funds the center will use to promote exporting by small and medium-sized businesses.

The center's goal is to put international sales within reach, said Christopher Johnston, the center's president.

"They don't have a lot of money to spend, they want to get involved -- how do they do it?" he said. The programs are designed to answer that question, by providing businesses with a low-cost foothold in exporting, he said.

Schimminger said international sales can support local jobs. "When companies export their goods, and sometimes their services, it means that dollars come back into the regional economy," he said.

The initiative announced Friday is a three-part effort. One is continued support for a program for exporters, with a focus on selling into Canada, the United States' largest trading partner. Fifteen companies participated in it last year, up from seven in 2007, Johnston said.

Another is the Low Cost Market Entry program, a new effort aimed at newcomers to exporting or companies that are exporting but need guidance to tap into additional markets.

The third part consists of educational seminars about trade, explaining things like rules of intellectual property and marketing methods.

S. Howes, a Silver Creek process equipment maker, generates about 30 to 35 percent of its sales internationally. Fred Mertz, vice president and general manager, said that base of business is essential to the company's existence. Its main export markets are Canada, Mexico and South America.

"The Buffalo region has an amazing network of support infrastructure, including machine tool and die shops, steel support services, controls companies," Mertz said. The company draws upon those resources to serve foreign customers with its equipment.

With the trade center's help, S. Howes has a list of guidelines to follow, to ensure it stays in compliance with complex regulations, Mertz said. "It's ever changing."

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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