Small Oregon businesses go global

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Articles - June 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
0611_GoingGlobal_06
Oxygen systems manufactured in Redmond by Mountain High Oxygen & Supply sell throughout Europe, and the company is hoping to expand its business in South America.
The challenges vary from business to business, and from nation to nation. Robert Jamieson, CEO of 15-employee Mountain High Oxygen & Supply, says he is thrilled to provide oxygen systems for helicopter pilots in Afghanistan and glider pilots in Switzerland. But he’s in no hurry to move into Russia. “By the time you figure in your under-the-table costs in Russia, your return on investment is gone,” he says. “Everybody’s got their hand out there.”

About 25% of Mountain High’s sales are overseas. Jamieson sees opportunity in Eastern Europe, where gliding is popular, and in Brazil, where law enforcement relies on helicopters. Wherever the next wave of foreign business comes from, Oregon will benefit, since Mountain High does all of its manufacturing in Redmond and purchases 90% of its goods and services from local vendors.

Jamieson says Mountain High built its international business by attending trade shows, marketing aggressively and selecting partners carefully. When he receives an inquiry that strikes him as suspicious, he requests that the deal go through “proper channels,” and more often than not the would-be suitor vanishes.

Other local businesses count Russia as their top foreign market and report no problems. Portland-based Simplex Manufacturing, which builds aerial application systems for firefighting, landed a major contract with the Russian government in the wake of the devastating wildfires that overwhelmed Moscow in August 2010.

Larry Lichtenberger, vice president of sales and marketing, says Simplex works with independent representatives in Russia who are trained in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “We are very, very careful about the rules,” he says.

Simplex makes more than 70% of its money from international sales, Lichtenberger says. The company frequently attends trade shows to bring in new business, with recent events in South Korea, Russia and Rhode Island. “We travel a lot,” says Lichtenberger. “We go there, which a lot of people are afraid to do.”

Business leaders say there is no substitute for traveling. At the same time, email, Skype and webinars have cut costs dramatically for small companies with global aspirations. Columbia Industrial Products owner Steve Phillips recently met with potential partners in Japan and Brazil without leaving its headquarters in Eugene.

CIP’s 16 employees make and sell custom composite bearings for hydropower dams and other industrial uses, exporting into about a dozen nations. The company first broke into global markets by partnering with a Swedish firm. Now they get unsolicited calls from India and they’re planning to travel to Brazil to capitalize on the brisk industrial growth there. “We never know who’s going to be on the other end when the phone rings,” says Phillips. He cites international sales as a stabilizing factor during turbulent times: “I felt bad over the past few years, when businesses were folding left and right. We were making money hand over fist.”

 



 

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