Monday, April 25, 2005

Vallejo Conference offers tips to would-be exporters

Article Published: Friday, April 22, 2005

Conference offers tips to would-be exporters

By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

Five years ago, Anna Marie Bimenyimana came to the United States, knowing she wanted to start a business serving people in her native Rwanda. Yet she knew little about international trade.

Now, she's the owner of A & B Import Export in Sonoma, shipping used clothing for sale overseas.

"When I decided to open, I didn't know anything about exporting," Bimenyimana said as she was honored Thursday in Vallejo at a conference on exporting.

An estimated 100 people attended the North Bay Export Conference. The Vallejo business community hosted the event to give entrepreneurs a lesson in how they can export products and grow their businesses. The conference targeted companies owned by women and minorities.
Bimenyimana, who was awarded a certificate of achievement from the U.S. Department of Commerce, was among the speakers.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Commerce and the Vallejo Business Alliance, which represents the black, Filipino-American, Hispanic and Vallejo chambers of commerce. It included talks on financing, the key to growing a business and even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's view on exports.

Exporting can help build the state's economy, said Yolanda Benson of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Benson, who works with the governor, said he wants to build foreign trade relations.

"We have to let them know California is ready to do business," said Benson, the state agency's deputy secretary of jobs, economic development and trade.

But Californians trying to get into the field may find it takes time to learn all the rules, said Heidi Hill of FedEx Services in Oakland, which helps businesses transport goods around the world.
Exporters must know about such matters as tariff codes, customs documentation, duties and taxes, she said, and failing to follow the rules could lead to trouble.

"You're responsible for exporting," Hill said. "You're liable. Do your research."
Once an exporter knows what goods he wants to sell overseas, he needs to consider where he will export those goods, said Michael Elkin of the U.S. Small Business Administration's San Francisco office. Consider the reputation of the country you're exporting to, he said.
"Getting paid can be difficult, not because of the company but because of the issues that are going on in that country," Elkin said, noting political issues.

After the first year of business, an exporter can seek the federal agency's help to grow the company, said Elkin, assistant district director for entrepreneurial development.
The administration helps secure bank loans for small businesses, which often are defined as companies with fewer than 100 employees and less than $5 million in annual sales, he said.
Even with plenty of resources, an exporter still needs to network, said Jonathan Scott of Thunderbolt Enterprises Ltd.

"Relationships is the key to being a good exporter," Scott said.
Scott acts as a broker between buyers and sellers, exporting such products as dental supplies, restaurant equipment and cement additives, he said. His Novato business sends those goods to countries including Russia, Japan and South Korea.

"It all comes down to relationships," Scott said, noting that he likes to know whom he's selling to.
At the end of the conference, Bimenyimana offered another piece of advice. "I certainly encourage everyone to export to Africa," she said, promoting her homeland. "It is a place you can try to do business."

- E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.

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