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Local, looking global

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | December 5, 2020 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Let’s start this report on exporting with numbers.

Idaho exported $3.4 billion in goods in 2019. Nearly 165 countries buy products from Idaho. More than one in five jobs in Idaho depends on international trade, and exporting businesses create jobs – try 22,000 in Idaho in 2016.

It would seem, based on these statistics and in this economy, many Idaho businesses would export or at least be seriously studying it.

But that would be wrong. Way wrong.

Of 598,000 Idaho businesses, only 1,534, just .25%, export.

William Jhung, director of the Idaho Small Business Development Center at North Idaho College, wants to change that.

“We have some great businesses and they should be exporting and we’re going to help them do that,” he said.

The SBDC strategy is to assist business leaders “at every phase of their businesses’ journey to help them build world-class businesses.”

That includes at the local, regional, national and, yes, global levels. Most businesses, big and small, aren’t thinking in those terms.

But they should, Jhung said, especially now.

“If we can help them do that, it’s going to create a stronger economic engine in North Idaho,” he said.

SBDC has coaches with expertise in many industries including manufacturing, technology, distribution, service, hospitality, retail, E-commerce and government contracting.

They also want to help businesses go global with exporting.

So, it is looking to hire a part-time export coach, paying in the range of $30 an hour.

The duties are such that will prove beneficial to small businesses. They include:

• Design and deliver practical business workshops to assist business owners/leaders gain insight and resources to develop and execute export strategies.

• Coach individual small business owners and entrepreneurs analyzing non-export business problems, developing solutions and providing access to resources.

• Design and deliver practical non-export business workshops to assist business owners gain insight and resources to improve their business.

With the economic fallout due to the coronavirus that has cost the country nearly 8 million jobs and forced about 100,000 businesses to permanently close, SBDC is receiving many calls for help.

“We’re busy, as you can imagine,” Jhung said.

It already helps hundreds of businesses each year with coaching and training, but not as many as they would like.

“A lot of time, people don’t know where to go,” he said. “They don’t know there are places like us that exist, that can help them.”

SBDC is ready to respond.

It recently added coaches for E-commerce and digital marketing. About half of its coaching assistance involves digital online business strategy.

There is potential for big business sales out there.

U.S. exports totaled about $2.5 trillion in 2019. Nearly 60% of those exports went to one country, usually Canada or Mexico.

“If they can export to Canada, they can export anywhere,” Jhung said.

There are 32.5 million businesses in the U.S., but just 1% export, Jhung said. That's not good business. He said exporting helps ride out fluctuations in economy, seasonality, diversifies revenue streams and creates jobs.

Which, in turn, will lead to better wages and benefits in an area not known for those things. A goal is to “bring money back to Idaho.”

“Our team’s vision is to create world class businesses,” Jhung said.