F!RST Business: A World of Help in Business

How do you convince foreign companies to bank in

It was not a good day at New Castle-based Kapejo Inc. when president Peter Martinez learned that he was being ripped off 7,000 miles away.

An employee of one of Kapejo’s Chinese distributors had started a competing company. The upstart claimed that he used his own fiber product-reinforced asphalt for several construction projects that, in truth, had used Kapejo’s trademarked BoniFibers.

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Years ago the specialized polyester replaced asbestos in asphalt applications for road and bridge surfaces. Because building highways had become a national obsession in China, there was a lot of business at stake for Kapejo. But grappling with the problem long distance—and in unpredictable China—was a daunting prospect for Martinez, though he was no stranger to the country.

Then he met with a trade representative from Hong Kong, who was visiting the World Trade Center Delaware. The trade rep referred him to the right people in Beijing to pave the way for prosecution. It took a few years, but Kapejo won its trademark infringement case.

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In business, as in other endeavors, it’s often who you know that counts. Hence the World Trade Center Delaware. “It’s like having a business office wherever you go around the world,” Martinez says.

The center may be a low-profile operation, but it has a very high impact.

The local offices are in a three-story building on Seventh Street in Wilmington, where WTC provides a window on the wider world for Kapejo and other Delaware companies who seek exposure overseas. In some ways, the view is just now coming into focus.

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“A lot of companies don’t know we exist,” says executive director Rebecca Faber, who calls her organization “a chamber for international businesses.” A busy slate of programs covers everything from export financing to keeping shipments safe from terrorism. Most members are small and medium-sized firms that are expansion-minded but need some guidance. “New hires of companies attend our events,” says business development director Meg Bhatt. “Many of them have no clue [about international business].”

WTC becomes their pathfinder, schooling them in logistics, recommending foreign trade shows, identifying key contact people in other countries.

“Companies may have perceived risks such as, ‘How do I get paid?’” says Faber. Enter the recent seminar “ABCs of Importing and Exporting,” which addressed, among other topics, payment options. Other seminars featured a U.S. Export-Import Bank officer who spoke about working capital and credit insurance, trade specialists who explained the thickets of cargo insurance and “merchandise passports,” and U.S. customs officials who discuss trade and terrorism.

During a WTC foreign policy luncheon early this year, DuPont Co.’s chief international counsel, Geoffrey Gamble, assessed the 2005 World Trade Organization talks in Hong Kong, and a foreign policy forum explored U.S. policy in Latin America. Last year the Korean, Bulgarian and Pakistani ambassadors made stops at WTC. Last spring, timed for World Trade Week, the Egyptian ambassador paid a visit.

But special events are just part of the picture. With a small, energetic staff buttressed by a few interns, WTC reduces the world to a local phone call, an invaluable resource for small businesses with big dreams. Tailored research (for a fee) is available in-house. A Delaware International Business Directory has been compiled. As the administrator of the Port of Wilmington Maritime Society, WTC understands the flow of commerce from outposts as distant as Australia. As part of the 300-member World Trade Centers Association, it can help business negotiations in other states and countries.

And it’s not just for the little guy. “It’s a natural, cost-effective conduit for our marketing activities in Delaware,” says Luis Clay, manager of the Wilmington branch of British megabank HSBC, a corporate sponsor of WTC. Clay characterizes the Delaware banking community as “still quite insular” and says that, though HSBC is “conservative, we understand risks other banks won’t touch.” The implication is that, if international spells risk, there are ways to avoid or lower it.

Many market analysts suggest that the real risk in the 21st century is not to go global, and indeed, there is two-way action at WTC: Delaware companies casting their eyes across the oceans, and foreign companies seeking a foothold in the States.

“For overseas companies looking to do business in the United States, the first step is to incorporate,” says Faber. “We want to help them incorporate in Delaware.”

Delaware’s ability to expedite the incorporation process is well known here and abroad. “The law is a big Delaware export,” says HSBC’s Clay. For foreign firms looking to import, WTC can help “source U.S. products in Delaware.” 

But WTC’s primary goal is to “create jobs through exports,” according to chairman Henry Beckler—local jobs, that is. “We can help Delaware companies expand their employment,” he says.

Though productivity and technology make a less-than-perfect correlation, when companies sell more products, they tend to hire more people. That’s been an important part of the mandate since WTC Delaware activities began in 1988 under the direction of the State Economic Development Office. The two agencies continue to work closely together.

“It’s a sort of public-private partnership to strengthen the state’s business community,” says Faber, who was an intern at DEDO before moving to WTC seven years ago. A non-profit organization since 1997, WTC receives an annual grant from the state legislature, and raises additional monies through membership dues and program fees.

In Faber’s public-private model, WTC offers an appealing balance.

“Some companies don’t like to work with the government,” says John Pastor, international director at DEDO. Pastor says that WTC provides flexibility, which can mean expanded opportunity. “Let’s say a construction company wants to build a facility overseas. I can help the ones in Delaware, but if there’s a Pennsylvania company involved, too, World Trade Center could help both.”

Selling Delaware is the broader mission for WTC, says Pastor. He lists a mix of poultry companies, legislators and university officials that he gathers for annual trade trips to Taiwan. Build relationships and the business will follow, he says. “We convinced them to buy Delaware poultry.”

The WTC led a similar delegation to Shanghai and Hong Kong, but usually stays on the home front to help educate the next batch of travelers.

HSBC’s Clay says that Delaware has a “viable future as an offshore financial center” for overseas customers. Meanwhile, World Trade Center Delaware will be preparing homegrown businesses to spread their wings. 




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