NEW YORK—Thea Grant started making jewelry on her kitchen table. When she first took her pieces to trade shows they were immediately noticed by Japanese vendors.
Shipping jewelry to Japan was Grant’s first exporting experience, but eight years later exports are the lifeblood of her business, accounting for 75 percent of revenues from customers in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia.
Great as it is, the export business was not a smooth ride to begin with.
“When we first started exporting our goods we weren’t sure how to categorize our work. We didn’t know if it was fine jewelry. We didn’t know if it was custom jewelry,” said Grant. “We didn’t even know where to start, who to call, where to go.”
Grant called up several different agencies just to figure out if she could ship her goods and how much it would cost. She laments not having had a mentor or a one-stop-shop to resolve her questions.
Grant’s case is common throughout the United States. A Brookings University study recently concluded, “State exports are reactive, fragmented, and inconsistently funded.”
In the New York metropolitan area alone there are at least 17 local, state, and federal entities offering a medley of services to support exports. On top of that are various nonprofits, academic institutions and businesses, yet no place a beginner exporter could call home.
Exports can be a boon to small and mid-sized manufacturers like Grant. Between 2005 and 2009, manufacturers who exported increased revenues by 37 percent, while those who didn’t saw revenues fall 7 percent.
The difficulty of the export process may be stifling growth. Following a successful initiative in Los Angeles, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer introduced a roadmap on June 12 to help New York City businesses navigate the exporting process.
“It’s the job of the government to help streamline the bureaucracy and break down the silos, and create opportunities for our businesses,” said Stringer at the release of his report, “ExportNYC: A Roadmap for Creating Jobs Through Exports.”
Stringer’s office prepared a set of eight recommendations that build on the city’s existing strengths and address export challenges.
At the core of the plan is the creation of a regional export council, an idea backed by Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The Regional Export Council would be comprised of business leaders, elected officials, and other stakeholders tasked with pooling existing resources, and developing strategies for growth. It would also advocate for changes at the state and local levels.
The plan also calls for building on the city’s great diversity, promoting service exports, advancing small manufacturing product exports, and creating better metrics, among others.
In its current state the plan is only a proposal and would require legislative backing and funding to move forward.
Thriving on Exports
Brooklyn Brewery isn’t only New York’s biggest brewery success story—it’s the biggest craft beer exporter in New York City as well. Steve Hindy, the founder and CEO of Brooklyn Brewery, said that exports now make up 28 percent of his business.
Brooklyn Brewery started small in the export business, with just 2 percent of the brewery’s sales coming from exports in 2005. The brewery won the acclaimed Carlsberg Semper Ardens Award that year, and at the awards dinner the world’s fourth largest beer maker, Carlsberg, approached the company about exporting Brooklyn Brewery beers to Europe.
“This was really when we started to pay attention to exports and it took off from there,” said Eric Ottoway, the general manager of Brooklyn Brewery, in an interview for Stinger’s report.
“Our exports are actually booming right now,” said Hindy. “Exports allow you to spread the risk of the company into different markets. [While] the recession has been happening in the U.S. for the past five years, Sweden has been booming, Brazil has been booming.”
Hindy expects exports to reach 50 percent of Brooklyn Brewery’s overall sales in the future.
Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President
Rick Bell, Executive Director of American Institute of Architects’ New York Chapter
Albert Song, President, WKS & Co., Inc.
Thea Grant, Owner of Thea Grant Jewelry
Steve Hindi, co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery
Interviews at the release of Scott Stringer’s export roadmap