By Karen E. Thuermer
Sometimes all a company needs to get into exporting is a good valet. In Virginia, that means the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program, implemented by the Commonwealth in 2002 to assist Virginia companies commit to exporting.
“We started the program with the intent to work with companies that are marginally active in international business, and accelerate their involvement in a more thoughtful, concentrated and accountable way,” says Paul Grossman, Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) director of International Trade and Investment.
Since the program’s inception, VALET has worked with over 100 companies to produce an average 88 percent increase in international sales. Currently, the VALET program has 33 companies as participants.
New companies recently accepted into the program include BDI of Chantilly; BOSH Global Services of Newport News; Customer Value Partners and SSB BART Group, Inc., both of Fairfax; Delta Pure Filtration of Hanover; Identification International, Inc. (i3) of Blacksburg; Shibuya Hoppmann Corporation of Culpeper; Syntronics LLC of Spotsylvania; Timber Truss Housing Systems, Inc. of Salem; Universal Companies, Inc. of Abingdon; Valkyrie Enterprises, LLC of Virginia Beach; and WR Systems, Ltd. of Norfolk.
Like an MBA
Grossman describes the program as being like an MBA program. Companies have to apply and be accepted. One of the requirements is that companies must show that over the prior 12 months of their application, they have invested at least $20,000 in support of their international business and will continue to spend at least that amount in the future.
“They have to follow all of the requirements of the course, and then graduate two years later,” Grossman says. “This means showing up for class and participating.”
Grossman refers to the program as being akin to individuals signing up for a personal trainer.
“We develop an exercise program specifically for each company,” he says. “We show up with our running shoes on, and make then stay on track. Discipline is what yields results.”
VALET tracks its success by groups or classes of companies.
“We have two groups of companies every January and July, and they graduate from the program two years later,” explains Leslie Parpart, VALET Program Co- Manager.
To qualify for the program, companies have to show they have been in business for at least three years, have at least $2 million in total sales or revenue, have at least 20 Virginia employees and have made at least a $20,000 investment to their arm of international business.
Participating companies come in a variety of sizes from small, mid-size to large. On average, however, they have 146 employees.
The program has had proven results. According to a recent survey of the program, companies indicated that they run their international sales at about 44 percent while they are in the program, and grow it another 44 percent by the time they graduate from the program.
“The last couple of classes – those companies that started in January and July 2007 and graduated in January and July 2009, grew about 58 percent and 68 percent, respectively,” says Parpart.
She adds that those classes that began in January and July 2008 and graduated in January and July 2010 also showed growth despite the economic downturn.
“The January group showed 25 percent growth, and the July group about 4 percent,” she says. “Clearly, the July class started when the economy nosedived. But the fact is that as a group, they still reported over $115 million in international sales.”
Consequently, Parpart surmises that the companies that participate in this program are seeing increases in their international sales. “It may not be in every single international market,” she adds. “But because these companies are committed to international business, they are holding their own.”
While VALET works with companies in all industry sectors across the Commonweal