By Dennis Grubaugh, Illinois Business Journal. November 2015
EDITOR’S NOTE: Officials from business, government and logistical services have formed the Southwestern Illinois Trade and Investment Council to promote international trade and foreign investment in St. Clair and Madison counties. They will meet quarterly. Silvia Torres Bowman and her office are helping organize the group.
IBJ: How did this council get started?
Torres: We started with conversations. Edie Koch, who was the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity regional manager, and I started talking after a regional economic conference led by Jerry Costello in 2011. The more I talked to my clients the more I realized this was not going to be a job of just the International Trade Center. We don’t have the staff or the budget to do it. I truly believe this had to be done by a collaborative team effort of all the service providers in our area, of which there are many.
IBJ: So the idea came out of past discussions?
Torres: Yes, the partners were very excited, but the problem, as you know, was getting everyone together. We continued talking but the time went by. About a year ago, Frank Miles and Terry Beach (economic development directors respectively in Madison and St. Clair counties), and Edie and myself said we needed to move forward. We started thinking about who to invite, what the mission would be. And through the ITC, I was talking to businesses about what their needs are. My own conclusion is, businesses need a place to go to and be a part of — so they can tell us what their challenges are. We are going to be facilitators and problem solvers.
IBJ: Who are the council’s members?
Torres: You’ll see (representatives of) the two counties; the airports; America’s Central Port FTZ (foreign trade zone); the Department of Commerce. ... There were 22 at the first meeting. There were four exporting businesses at that point. Of course, we would like to increase that number. The challenge is businesses don’t know much about us.
In terms of the service providers — federal, state and local — we’ve got ’em. We’ve also got one, potentially two banks, and two freight forwarders. One is LR International, which we have a long history with. They are located close to O’Hare. Ric Frantz (CEO of LR) has been driving from Chicago to Southern Illinois on a regular basis since 1998, counseling businesses pro bono. I’d like him to be our eyes and ears in Chicago, telling us what’s working up there.
IBJ: Your first meeting was very low-key.
Torres: We wanted it to be casual. We wanted the members to get to know each other better. It was also a short notice. One reason, we had Nathan Regan of Select USA (a government-sponsored organization that facilitates domestic and foreign business investment in the U.S.). I learned at the last minute he was going to be in the area to present at an economic development conference in Effingham. He is going to be a tremendous partner. He helps communities and regions come up with better strategies to help attract direct foreign investment. Select USA will have a summit next June and I want us to be represented there. They had 70 international markets represented last year and I think they want to try to make it up to 100.
IBJ: So who is the new council’s target audience?
Torres: Exporting businesses. One goal of the council, unless it’s decided otherwise, is that the less experienced would connect with the more experienced exporters. We’d like to have a good balance.
IBJ: What is your office’s role going to play in all this?
Torres: Whatever challenges they send to us. Finding answers, finding resources and bringing them here. There are some resources, perhaps in Washington, D.C., or other states, that we can partner with.
IBJ: This is not just jobs and expansion of commerce overseas. It’s also about bringing trade here, too, right?
Torres: Exactly. That’s the additional element I want to bring. We initially talked about jobs and enabling businesses to become more successful global traders. But we need to leverage all the opportunities. I can’t tell you the number of times that delegations go to McCormick Place (the state-backed convention and tradeshow complex in Chicago), from all over the world. Let’s bring those people here.
IBJ: Has anyone been chosen to chair this council?
Torres: Alan Dunstan and Mark Kern (current chairmen of Madison and St. Clair counties, respectively) will remain as chairs and a president will eventually be appointed. We have outstanding people in the council and the one selected will do an incredible job.
IBJ: What are some of the needs of the exporting community in southwestern Illinois?
Torres: That’s what we’re going to address with this council. What we’re finding is businesses here have so many priorities that they cannot afford stepping away for even a one or a two-hour program to learn more (about trade) and to network. They don’t realize how crucial those networking opportunities can be. In Chicago, in one day, you can have five or six networking opportunities. That doesn’t happen here. Here, they would like to know more, but they are also very conservative (about trying new business strategies). They don’t know who does what. When you are a small business you don’t have time to sort things out.
IBJ: So this will be fact-finding for them as much as anything?
Torres: It could be facts. It could be tax implications or issues with selling. It could be documentation — we are partners with Customs offices in Chicago and St. Louis. It would be nice to have one site to channel all these questions. The bottom line is being able to resolve trade issues on behalf of the business community in Southwestern Illinois.
IBJ: What do you think is possible?
Torres: I'd like to propose to the council, maybe long term, what we did in 2009. We had the first Southern Illinois trade mission to South America. We coordinated all these matchmaking appointments. There were about 15 businesses represented in that mission. Most of the businesses wanted to meet customers, distributors. What I would like to do differently this time is combining not only exports but also FDI (foreign direct investment). With Nathan's group's assistance we can make it possible to have a very effective and powerful mission. We could put Southwestern Illinois in the minds of all the leaders of all those countries. And if we're traveling we want to go to several countries. In 2009, we went to five countries.
The council may say, let's take care of more immediate needs first, which is perfectly OK, but I believe our responsibility should also be to present those opportunities.
Illinois Business Journal. September 2015
llinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti headlined a cadre of female executive presenters at the recent kick-off of a new regional women’s leadership network.
The event held in Litchfield, served as the launch of The “W” Network of Downstate Illinois, a continuing education and networking organization where women leaders can engage and support each other.
Silvia Torres Bowman, director of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s International Trade Center, was also a speaker at the “W” Network’s inaugural event. Torres Bowman is laying the groundwork for the group and inviting women executives and entrepreneurs to take part.
“The main goal of The ‘W’ Network is to enlighten, inspire and re-energize strong and bright women with new tools, information and visions on how we can make our businesses, communities and state soar,” she said. “Illinois needs and deserves wise women working wonders.”
The event also featured wisdom from the following women: Pam Kovacevich, CEO, Girl Scouts of Central Illinois; Margo Markopoulos, from the Illinois Department of Commerce Office of Trade and Investment; Sharon Alpi, Coleman Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurship at Millikin University; Christine Dudley, director of the Illinois Film Office; and Sherry Brianza, president/founder of Brianza Bella LLC.
Brianza, a seasoned entrepreneur in the cosmetic/retail industry, is also a dedicated community activist. During the inaugural women’s leadership event, she spoke to women statewide about launching a business, exporting its products into international markets and taking an active civic role in building their communities.
“I connected with the International Trade Center at SIUE five years ago when I prepared to go global with my cosmetics line,” Brianza said. “I had been thinking of starting a women’s network organization for some time, and then I began talking with Silvia who had the same vision.
“I’m part of a women’s network in Chicago, and it has helped me tremendously, not just professionally. It has evolved into activism, as well. The time has come for Southwestern Illinois to have its own women’s leadership organization.”
Brianza and Torres Bowman agree that The “W” Network is seeking women, who are leaders and truly make a difference by quietly doing their work.
“These women are not focused on the title or recognition,” said Brianza. “They commit to a mission, find the time and make it happen. Our first meeting last month in Litchfield really set the footprint for what we plan to accomplish.”
Beth Toon, co-founder of the Shop Local First campaign in Carlinville, worked with Brianza to launch SLF several years ago. The two women also served together on an economic development committee. Toon says The “W” Network initiative came at just the right time.
“Not only did we hear from some amazing and inspiring women, but the event also helped to inform the audience about the services that our state has to offer,” Toon said. “The scope of information covered was almost overwhelming, but also very fascinating. I appreciated the opportunity to meet and learn from women in several different fields, and I look forward to attending more of these networking events in the future.”
A Metro East-based event for The “W” Network is being planned for later this fall on the SIUE campus, according to Torres Bowman.
“We were thrilled with the turnout of our first ‘W’ Network event in Litchfield,” she said. “It points to a true need for this type of executive-level support for women in leadership positions across our state. We’re looking to continue involving women who are making things happen in their local communities and throughout Illinois.”
Erica Harriss, founder of Saving Grace Beauty LLC, from Glen Carbon, attended the “W” Network’s first event and is planning on participating in the women’s next session in the Metro East. Harriss, whose company manufactures a hair powder that helps cover roots and extend the time between salon visits, said the caliber of women she had met at the Litchfield event was invaluable.
“I was able to meet women in leadership roles who I never would’ve had the opportunity to otherwise,” Harriss said. “Thanks to the ‘W’ Network event, I now know women who do jobs that I didn’t even know existed.”
The International Trade Center at SIUE serves entrepreneurs and small businesses in southern Illinois by providing individualized, export consultation; identification of foreign buyers, agents and/or distributors through trade leads, international market analysis and more. The ITC is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and SIUE as a service to the region’s entrepreneurial and business community.
For more information on The “W” Network or to learn how these no-cost services may help your business, contact Torres Bowman at email@example.com or (618) 650-2452.
By Dennis Grubaugh, Illinois Business Journal. April 2014
EDWARDSVILLE — Technology is making even the most remote points on the planet more accessible, and Illinois entrepreneurs are among those clamoring to ride the global trading wave.
The water can be difficult wading, though, especially during a slowdown in the global economy and particularly when you’re not sure where to start.
“As we cross global borders in terms of international transactions, risk becomes a major factor. I hear from many of our clients almost every day that they have to become more creative not to lose to competitors,” said Silvia Torres, director of the Illinois SBDC International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, a part of the School of Business. The center provides free, detailed assistance to entrepreneurs — and a network that can connect them to worldwide markets.
Some of the biggest challenges also represent opportunities. Among them are advancing technologies, innovation and research strategies, finding supply chain partners and providers, the increased costs of shipping, rising wages in China and the Eurozone crisis. The list of regulations and documentation is a daunting one and prompted the center this past month to stage a seminar in which the many issues could be openly discussed.
A lot is at stake in understanding the export system. Some $65 billion in goods was sent out of Illinois last year. Some 75 percent of the value is from the state’s larger employers. But 90 percent of the state’s exporters are small- to medium-size businesses.
“We are a very active state; we shipped to 215 countries last year,” Torres said.
The most recent numbers show:
- Illinois is the fifth-largest exporter among states. The top three destinations are Canada, Mexico and China.
- A little over 64 percent of U.S. exports came from manufacturing in 2011.
- Some 632,800 jobs were supported by exports.
The SIUE trade center is part of a 12-center network in the state that jointly reported more than $800 million in export business that it assisted in 2012. This past year, the SIUE center reported more than $57 million in such business.
The Trade Center’s funding comes from two sources. Half comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration, channeled through the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, and the other 50 percent comes from SIUE. The Trade Center is part of the school’s Small Business Development Center.
The Trade Center provides information at no cost on various aspects of exporting, from companies who are just starting out to more seasoned operations that need advice on business plans, distributors, agents, etc.
The local center works with SIUE faculty and students toward its goals, as well as 11 foreign offices through the State of Illinois Office of Trade and Investment. The newest office is in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Torres underscores a program called ISTEP (Illinois State Trade and Promotion program), which started with the Small Business Jobs Act in 2010, as a three-year pilot program. Some states have already discontinued funding but Illinois is continuing it with internal funds. Basically, it’s designed to provide companies with financial and technical assistance in three categories — group trade missions, individual foreign market missions and achieving product compliance certification.
Funding is available on a first-come basis, she said.
Under group trade missions, ISTEP helps to reimburse 50 percent to 75 percent of travel costs, not to exceed $5,000 per company. Partial reimbursement is available for up to two company representatives.
Under individual foreign market sales missions, ISTEP helps to reimburse up to 75 percent of related travel costs, not to exceed $7,500 per company. Partial travel reimbursement is available for only one company representative.
Under product compliance certification, financial assistance of up to 50 percent reimbursement, not to exceed $5,000 per company, is available.
“I hear from clients who are trying to attain ISO certification (for international standards) or CE marking, if they are trying to penetrate the European market, or the CCC (certificate) if they are going after the Chinese market,” Torres said.
ISTEP eligibility is extended to businesses that have been in operation for at least one year, have fewer than 500 employees, have a minimum of $250,000 in annual revenue and can demonstrate an understanding of the costs associated with exporting.
“This is continuing in the state through June 30, and I tell my clients, who knows what’s going to happen starting July 1,” Torres said. “We have been able to help over 10 companies so far through various projects, one different than the next. We have been very creative in making these funds available whatever the objective is for the client.”
Al Li, vice president of Global Trade Finance at Regions Bank in St. Louis, which co-sponsored the recent seminar, has spent years on helping clients mitigate financial risks and obtain working capital.
“By 2020 we’re looking at world trade to be at 40 percent of the global GDP, two and a half times what it was in 2010,” Li said. “Global trade is not one of those things we can ignore any more. Your customers are not just domestic, and if they are, there is a world of opportunity out there.”
Not every state has the network that Illinois has, Li said.
Illinois’ top exporting sectors are industrial machinery, transportation equipment, chemicals, computers and parts, and petroleum and coal products. Agriculture, oddly, falls No. 8.
The United States’ reputation for quality manufacturing has evolved. Years ago, in such areas as auto making, it was much lower. Today, that industry sets the standard for the rest of the world, Li said.
Compared to China, he said, the perception of the rest of the world is this country is a much better goods maker.
“One of the trends we’re seeing from Asia is that those countries are trying to secure the food supply from the U.S., because they don’t trust their own food supply as much,” Li said.
The rise of the middle class in such places as India and China has had the effect of increasing interest in more reliable U.S. goods, he added.
The top concern of any fledgling business, of course, is money. Li said banks traditionally do not advance money for businesses that rely heavily on payments from overseas importers, because there is no way to recover those moneys should something happen.
But there are three main sources of such capital, two from the government (the U.S. Export-Import Bank and the U.S. Small Business Administration) and through credit insurance.
The programs offer a mix of loan guarantees and percentage advances on inventory, and they all have restrictions dealing with eligibility.
Regions is a top 10 Ex-Im Bank lender, Li said.
“We can advance up to 90 percent on the Ex-Im Bank guarantee,” he said. “As long as the exporter fits a certain grid in terms of financial ratios, and positive, tangible net worth of the company, as long as they qualify, we can establish an Ex-Im borrowing base line.”
Among financial services that Regions assists with are arranging letters of credit with foreign importers, basically a means of shifting the credit risk from the end client (the importer) to the bank that they use.
By Dennis Grubaugh, Illinois Business Journal. April 2014
[IMAGE: IBJ Apr14 Page 09 Image 0006]
CARLINVILLE — Sherry Brianza’s life centers on cosmetics, but her fondness for the work of the International Trade Center at SIUE goes way below the surface.
The Carlinville native is well on her way to a full launch of a cosmetics distribution company, thanks to the advice she’s gotten and the connections she’s made in the last six years.
“I could not have done this without the trade center. Silvia Torres (the director) has been phenomenal helping me out,” she said.
Brianza was a sales representative for Revlon for many years until 1985 when she launched her first business, Brianza Sales & Marketing, Inc. In that role, she works to place the cosmetics products of other companies on store shelves and with distributors around the country.
Six years ago, she decided to broaden her horizons with her own cosmetics-production company, called Brianza Bella, LLC. As she struggled during the recession to get established in the domestic market, she sought out the help of the SIUE International Trade Center to see what was available outside the United States.
The Trade Center’s network of connections eventually led her to travel twice to Brazil and once to Africa, and she is now working on distributors for her products.
She plans to return a third time to Brazil to nail down relationships.
“I’m looking to relaunch in the U.S. and internationally. Brianza Bella is my company. It’s my chance to be a real success,” she said.
Some would argue she’s already crossed the success threshold, but it hasn’t been easy.
Cracking the world market requires an understanding of not only the exporting process but the financing of it. She is getting that help from SIUE and from Regions Bank.
The line of Brianza Bella products are being manufactured out of a center in California, but the corporation is headquartered in Carlinville, in Macoupin County.
“We’re just doing baby steps now. We’ve got the (U.S.) distribution, but it’s not enough to be proud of,” she said.
Working through the trade center at SIUE and the State of Illinois Office of Trade and Investment, she attended a 2010 trade show in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She had several meetings and meals with important business executives. She paid for some of the trip and the rest was underwritten by the state of Illinois. She returned in 2012. Later, she traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Africa and South America are two huge, emerging markets for her products, which are designed to be multicultural.
Torres said the center will first try to help entrepreneurs identify a market for their products. The initial discussion will involve such things as staffing, language barriers, resources, manufacturing plans and the like.
“If we determine they are ready to proceed, we then go over their products,” she said, noting that sometimes business people have too broad a focus and are advised to narrow what they are attempting to market to better ensure their success.
Evaluation also looks at the potential for profitability and the safety factor — whether the country has established trade practices with the United States.
“We hold hands with companies that way,” Torres said.
In Brianza’s case, the graduate students who work with Torres — who otherwise represents a one-person office — drew up an international marketing plan as one of the first priorities.
Brianza took part in multiple categories of funding. On her first trip to Brazil, she went as part of the Gold Key program of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which covers “matchmaking expenses” for business people seeking foreign distributors.
On her second Brazil trip, she went as part of an “individual foreign sales market mission,” which allowed up to 50 percent reimbursement of eligible expenses through the state’s ISTEP program .
“I would never have been able to do this on my own,” Brianza said. “I don’t speak Portuguese. I had an interpreter. I had chauffeured service. I had pre-arranged appointments. Look how much they did. I could never have afforded to do that.”
On her third trip, which was to Africa, she went as part of a group trade mission and was eligible for up to 50 percent reimbursements on her air fare and hotel. “All other expenses I paid,” she said. The U.S. also had a large booth at the trade show and it was no charge for the space Brianza used.
“I was gone for about a week for each of my trips,” she said.
The founder and managing partner of Brianza Bella has three other business partners.
She recounted: “All through this time, I always come back to Silvia and say, ‘Do you have any more sources?’ They have been very good to work with, and very business friendly.”
Her future success is going to pay dividends to Illinois.
“There’s a benefit for the state,” Brianza said. “The more they export the more they make. It’s a very wise investment.”