Spokane Journal of Business

Trade mission follow-up begins

Spokane-area delegates hold encouraging talks in Japan, remain hopeful about results

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A common sight in the heavily urban Kansai Region of Japan is that of a man in dapper business attire riding a bicycle, carrying a portfolio case in his bikes front basket and holding a cellular phone to his ear.

Spokane delegates who returned recently from a trade mission to that area likewise say they expect to keep pedaling, dodging obstacles, and pursuing business opportunities as they follow up on contacts made or renewed there.

If you want to succeed in Japan, you have to follow up with the connections youve made, says Karen Marshall, director of the Spokane Regional International Trade Alliance (SRITA), which co-sponsored the mission with the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. Thats because of the heavy emphasis the Japanese place on establishing personal relationships before making business transactions, she says.

Twenty-two business, civic, and government representatives participated in the week-long mission, which included formal meetings with Japanese counterparts in the seaport cities of Nishinomiya, Kobe, and Osaka. The mission also included individual business appointments, sessions with federal and Washington state trade representatives based in Japan, and a number of banquets, receptions, and cultural tours.

Although participants were warned not to expect any measurable results from the trip, since the Japanese are so notoriously cautious in their business dealings, there was some immediate movement on that front:

Buckeye Beans & Herbs Inc., of Spokane, which has been exporting to Japan for about two years, sold two cargo containers of pasta, gathered information on the growing Japanese consumer movement toward organic-certified products, and took some initial steps to expand its distribution network there.

Edgewood Fine Log Structures Ltd., of Coeur dAlene, which has been shipping high-end log-home packages to Japan for eight years, reached tentative agreement to provide four model homes, and possibly more later, to a prospective new client there. Company owner Brian Schafer developed the lead through a contact at the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka, where the Spokane delegation had stopped for a luncheon meeting with executives of the U.S. Department of Commerce and American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Schafer also met separately with a major Japanese customer to discuss improvements to the log-home packages he sends there and to talk about joint development of a Japanese-language site on the Internets World Wide Web to market his log homes.

Ruth Nobuko Anderson, who owns a Post Falls firm that does international-business consulting, says she had encouraging preliminary talks with a Japanese medical-equipment catalog publisher about marketing products distributed by Matrix Medical Inc., of Spokane. Anderson, who grew up in Japan and still has family members there, stayed behind after the Spokane delegation had left, to meet with prospective apparel-industry clients about importing American-made clothing and with a retail clothing store owner there for which she already is a buyer. Anderson says she, too, planned to talk with someone while there about developing a Japanese-language Web site.

The delegates interviewed were upbeat about the contacts theyd made on the trade mission and the prospect for increased commerce and cultural exchanges with Kansai Region representatives as a result of the trip.

SRITAs Marshall says shell be working with the delegates, probably over a period of many months, to help them generate solid business from the contacts that were made. However, even at this stage, she says, Were very pleased with the outcome, both from the business and cultural perspectives.

She and Rich Hadley, president and CEO of the Spokane chamber, both say they believe the trade delegation, which was led by Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty, Hadley, and chamber Chairman Dave Shea, created a strong impression in Japan because of its blend of local-government, civic, educational, and business representatives.

However, they say, that also meant the group had to spend a lot of time on ceremony and protocol that otherwise might have been used for more focused business pursuits.

Both of them say they would like to see the next Spokane trade mission to the Kansai Region, whenever that occurs, include a stronger business orientation and more industry-specific research and individual meetings.

I thought this one showed us what to be prepared for, Marshall says.

Many Japanese people seem knowledgeable about Western Washington-based efforts to boost trade with their country, and now theyre aware that we want to make an effort also, she asserts. I hope weve put Spokane on the map. I know it (the trade mission) opened doors for us.

Hadley says he was particularly pleased by the contacts made with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, which the Spokane chamber has agreed to join for about $250, and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), which is a government-supported entity. Both organizations offer a variety of services to assist U.S. companies that are doing business, or want to do business, in Japan.

One of Spokanes next opportunities for a business-related exchange with Kansai Region representatives may come this fall. The Spokane trade delegation learned during a meeting in Kobe with Kobe Chamber of Commerce and Industry executives that a high-technology trade delegation from Kyogo Prefecture, in which Kobe is located, plans to visit Seattle in October. Kobe has a sister-city relationship with Seattle; nevertheless, Marshall says she hopes to attract the group to Spokane to attend an international-commercialization conference that the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute has scheduled for that month.

Meanwhile, SRITA is working on efforts to educate local businesses about trade opportunities in other parts of the world. It plans to bring in two U.S. Foreign Commercial Service officers from Argentina and Brazil on June 5 to talk about doing business in those countries. Its also planning to have Alison Krupnick, Seattle-based emerging-markets program manager for the state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, speak here, probably in early May, on private investment in Southeast Asia and Russia. Separately, its working on a program about marketing and distributing in Alberta, Canada.

One little-known Asian city thats being viewed here as a potentially strong future trade partner is Chechon, South Korea. A local group is exploring the possibility of developing a sister-city relationship between Spokane and Chechon, which are similar in size.

Spokane has a good-sized Korean population, and a study that SRITA funded and expects to release in about two months found South Korea to be among the top international-trade prospects for Inland Northwest businesses.

Theres a lot of potential in Korea, and it might be quicker to develop than Japan markets, Marshall says.

Kim Crompton
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