NORTHEAST PORTS - Vermont “Green” with export opportunities

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): International Trade  Ports & Terminals  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTWith a population of 800,000 and an area of 9,609 square miles, Vermont does not rank high on the list as a manufacturing and economic powerhouse. But for New England this land of maple syrup, cheddar cheese, and Green Mountains offers surprising opportunities for business, both domestically and internationally. The state is serious about international trade.
Vermont’s best advantages are its natural resources and location on the Canadian border. Not surprisingly, Canada is Vermont’s largest trading partner.
“Quebec, which is 12 times our size, is our largest trading partner,” comments Governor Jim Douglas, who met with AJOT recently at the state capitol building in Montpelier to discuss economic development. “A few years ago, Vermont was Quebec’s fifth largest trading partner, but now we are No. 3. We are very important to them, as they are to us.”
China is also critical to Vermont’s export complexion. Vermont’s Chamber of Commerce maintains an office in Shanghai to facilitate access to that market.
“Exporting is key to our success,” Governor Douglas remarks. “Exports increased 29% in the last year.”
IBM, the state’s major employer, comprised a big part of that, with its electronics exports. “Some was also specialty foods,” Governor Douglas adds.
IBM operates a major plant in Essex Junction where it is one of the world’s top producers of semiconductor technology. The Vermont site is part of IBM Microelectronics, a division of IBM’s Technology Group. IBM Microelectronics is located in multiple countries. Burlington is the main facility office for the division.
Vermont specialty foods are promoted by the Vermont Specialty Food Association. Offerings include everything from baked goods, beverages, cereals, confectionaries, dairy products, cheese, fruits and spreads, syrups, grains, dressings, herbs, oils, pasta, snack foods, and vinegars.
The Vermont “brand”“Made in Vermont” offers a powerful brand appeal. “Made in Vermont sells around the world. We have a strong effort for exports. And we are known for quality,” Governor Douglas emphasizes.
Besides maple syrup, two products that come to mind immediately are Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, headquartered in Waterbury, and Vermont Teddy Bear Company in Shelburne. Both companies had their start as small, entrepreneurial operations that emphasized quality.
“When the Trade Representative from Taiwan came to Vermont, I gave him some Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream,” says the Governor. “He immediately said it was good and asked if they could import it.”
Vermont Teddy Bear fame is also spreading. The company had its start in 1981, when John Sortino realized that his son was playing with teddy bears that wore tags identifying them as foreign made. By 1983, Sortino began to sell his bears from a peddler’s cart at an open-air market in Burlington. While sales were initially slow, one day a customer gave him the idea to ship the bears directly to the consumer as a Bear-Gram®. Today, the company handcrafts more than 350,000 bears for its Bear-Gram gift delivery service and employs 274 year-round staff.
Wood products and furniture are traditional to Vermont. From forests to sawmills to finished products, the industry supports over 1,000 companies. This value-added segment generates more than $24.9 million in fiscal benefits to the state. Forest products made in Vermont account for over $1 billion in sales annually.
Among the companies, Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. was started in Vermont in 1932, although it now is headquartered in Connecticut. Some Ethan Allen furniture is still manufactured from the plant in Orleans, Vermont.
“They don’t have as many employees as they once did,” the Governor maintains. Like many furniture makers, Ethan Allen has moved some of its manufacturing offshore to China.
Governor Douglas admits that the wood products industry has its share of challenges. Among them: the cost of doing business and Canadian competition. “We are holding our own,” he says. To k

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