Share this article

print logo

Trade group president takes on the world

From his office in the 700 block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo, Christopher Johnston has a global perspective.

The president of World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara works with companies interested in starting to export or increasing their amount of international trade. The WTCBN, with 150 members, provides guidance and hosts seminars featuring "real-world" examples of businesses describing their experiences in other countries. The group's annual World Trade Celebration will be Jan. 18, with keynote speaker Neil D. Fraser, president of Medtronic of Canada.

>Q: Where are your members exporting nowadays?

A: Canada is this region's largest trading partner, and we do a tremendous job, compared to other metropolitan areas, in exporting as a whole that's heavily focused on Canada. We're seeing a lot of movement in Brazil. That seems to be the hottest market right now, in terms of looking at the emerging markets.

China continues to be strong, India a little bit less so than, say, than other metropolitan areas. When companies are looking at South America, they tend to look at it twofold: they almost have to be in Brazil, and then they have to be somewhere else in South America to service the other countries.

>Q: Why makes Brazil so appealing?

A: Tremendous growth opportunities. Obviously you've got the [2014] World Cup and the [2016] Olympics that are coming, so that's driving a lot of infrastructure development. Internally, the companies seem to be just emerging by leaps and bounds.

And then you've got all the multinationals, and then you've got the Chinese and you've got the Russians and the European countries that are all coming in there as well. It's this constant building blocks of domestic demand, production and then international companies coming in and investing in Brazil.

>Q: How did the recession impact exporting?

A: The dollar sort of went back and forth, so when it weakened vis-a-vis other currencies, that certainly helps our exports. I think export demand has continued to be robust. I think emerging markets have really driven that. Your traditional markets, domestically in the U.S. and in Europe and less so in Canada, suffered through the recession, and that hurt companies here. But certainly Brazil, India, China, even Russia, and Canada -- especially Southern Ontario continues to grow and grow -- those markets really helped a lot of companies get through it.

>Q: What type of local companies are exporting? Are they mainly small manufacturers?

A: The service companies are getting into it more and more. You have Phillips Lytle opening (law) offices [in Canada], accounting and legal services, financial institutions. So you're certainly seeing the service industry get more engaged internationally than they were in the past. Typically they were providing services for the manufacturers here to help them export; now they're actively starting to export themselves, which is a very good thing.

Manufacturing, it runs the gamut, from a one-person shop, to medium-size to large firms that are out there exporting. I think one thing we're always pushing on is, one of the strengths of the region is we have a lot of companies that do export. They tend to export to one country. So helping them look at other markets -- they're already exporting, they know what it takes to export, they've been through the process. So how do you take them into the next market?

>Q: Do you sense there are a lot more local companies that could be exporting but aren't?

A: Trade's not for everyone, if you will. It certainly has risk involved with it. So I think companies by and large are cognizant or recognize the value of international trade. I think there's just a reluctance to assuming or mitigating the risk. And so that's sort of the challenge, how do you mitigate the risk for the company?

>Q: Why did you choose a Medtronic executive as your keynote speaker?

A: This will be our 16th [World Trade] Celebration. We traditionally tend to focus on the manufacturing community. It's certainly an important part of our membership, and it's the community we primarily service. And through our board of directors, they recognized the importance of the medical/life science cluster here in Western New York and Southern Ontario, and for the last couple of years have been pushing us to get a medical device company

Medtronic has a tie-in here locally with Greatbatch, in terms of the pacemaker. So there's a long history between Medtronic and Greatbatch.

>Q: You host top-level executives from major companies at the World Trade Celebration. What can businesses learn from them?

A: The recipe is a company with a local angle. I think what companies can take away from it is lessons learned from a global company. In this case, [Medtronics is] heavy on the R&D side, heavy on the product development side, and is in 80-plus countries around the world. Each of those countries poses a different or unique challenge to the company. From a going-forward standpoint, where do they see the global dynamics going, and where do they see their product and their industry?

The medical device [industry] impacts a lot of different other markets. There's chemicals, they're plastics, there's electronics, there's batteries. It's not just medical companies per se.