Ventura County businesses involved with the export industry couldn’t be happier. As the value of the once-mighty U.S. dollar continues to be diluted, the American trade deficit has drastically improved and American-made products have caught the attention of international buyers.

“As the value of the dollar goes down, it makes our goods more competitive overseas,” said Dr. Sung Won Sohn, professor of economics and finance at California State University, Channel Islands.

While Ventura County is one of only nine counties in California that exceeds more than $1 billion dollars of trade annually, the current state of the economy — coupled with regional and national export initiatives — actually casts the local exporting business into the limelight.

Inspired by President Obama’s 2010 National Export Initiative, whose goal is to double exports over the next five years to support 2 million jobs in America, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties launched a $190,000 export initiative through the federal Small Business Jobs Act. The SBDC initiative will supply businesses with one-on-one assistance and technical resources they need to begin exporting or to expand their current international exporting business. The two-county initiative is the only one of its kind created in response to Obama’s export initiative.

“It’s loaded with all kinds of capabilities to help businesses do more exporting,” said Ray Bowman, director of the SBDC for Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. With three-fourths of the world’s consumers outside U.S. borders, it makes sense to seek business overseas. “It used to be that international business was for big companies who had (big) budgets,” explained Bowman, “but the technology has changed and small companies now have access overseas.”

With about 27 million businesses in the United States, only 226,000 businesses export their products, according to the U.S. Census.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has been a proponent of local businesses taking advantage of the SBDC initiative, advocating that it will create more jobs and stimulate the economy.

“As American businesses continue to face increasingly fierce competition from overseas, our economy continues to import more and export less,” said Capps. “The Export Initiative will help businesses better compete and reverse this trend.”

Bowman said the biggest challenge he faces as a trade consultant is that lots of companies are timid about entering the export business because of the perceived risk.

“The biggest trade barrier to me is knowledge,” Bowman said. “We get companies to export by simply showing them how to do it by understanding foreign laws and tariffs, labeling and such. If we are able to help with those questions, lots of these companies find they can be really successful doing it.”

One local company that has benefited thus far is Earth Safe Finishes, a Moorpark-based nontoxic paint and finishes company. In the past six months, the company has shipped its products to Africa, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Australia and Hong Kong.

Shortly after the company’s inception four years ago, owner Nancy Burkhart attended an export class given by the SBDC and has since been the recipient of several state and federal trade awards. With the new Export Initiative, Burkhart regularly seeks out SBDC trade consultants. “It’s invaluable,” she said. “Every time I make a business call, they help with the research.”

By taking advantage of the sluggish economy and capitalizing on the weak value of the dollar to seek international business, local exporting companies are in a unique position to help bolster the American economy and create employment opportunities. The activity in the Port of Hueneme supports close to 4,500 jobs, and according to Mary Anne Rooney, Oxnard Harbor commissioner and SBDC adviser, employment is affected by the trade of product through the port, primarily bananas and cars.

“If we can increase that (trade activity), all the better,” said Rooney. “We have more than a billion dollars of international trade in Ventura County. Why shouldn’t we support that further? Let’s be proactive instead of reactive.”   

shane@vcreporter.com