Sunday, April 19, 2015

SUNRNR Goes to Washington, DC and Beyond: Poised for Export

SUNRNR portable solar generators exportI recently had the great honor of being one of nine small business principals invited by the White House Business Council to attend a briefing with senior Administration officials including Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council.  This Small Business Exporters Roundtable was assembled to discuss the President's export and international trade agenda with an emphasis on two potentially-new partnerships, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).  Other participants were the Honorable Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, the Honorable Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, and the SBA Administrator, Ms Maria Contreras-Sweet.  Oh, and two days before the meeting, we were all told the President would be joining us.
SUNRNR at Small Business Exporters Roundtable

That, he did.  President Obama spent well over an hour asking questions and listening to the nine of us, with products and services in everything from colorants to tea to high-tech equipment to concrete to more concrete to overhead doors to software to renewable energy, tell our individual stories of export to date - problems, successes, paths, results, value.  He also asked the Mayors to comment on how trade affects their cities and the US in general and he had Administrator Contreras-Sweet remind us of the terrific resources available to Small Business, such as loan programs and assistance centers.  Mayor Buckhorn mentioned his city's beautiful ports and how closely foreign trade ties them to jobs and revenue.  Mayor Nutter mentioned the fearfulness many businesses might have toward entering global markets and how important it was to make it easier, less-intimidating, and more secure for them, such as through trade agreements.

They then warned us about "cameras" coming in.  I was naively unprepared as the room more than doubled in attendance with booms, lights, audio, video filling the other side of the room and the President graciously and humorously noted they don't usually hit you on the head.  New experience to say the least.  More available through gettyimages and

SUNRNR and another company were likely tied for "youngest" in terms of exporting, but the President interacted with us all equally.  He saw immediately how our product might be better-suited for certain countries where there is little, none, or an unreliable grid rather than for America, where electricity is plentiful, therefore leaving relatively-niche markets for our product, such as small off-grid, construction, well pumps, preparedness, rural applications.  As to how SUNRNR was fortunate enough to be represented there, it started many years ago with the dream of container-loads of SUNRNR portable solar generators bound for places needing electricity and where just a little would be appreciated and go a long way.

In many cases, such as ours, a small business' "export department" may consist of one or more of the principals.  With no training in this area, I began learning by visiting websites, writing emails, attending seminars/classes/webinars, and scheduling meetings.  The federal and state governments offer so many, almost too many, resources to help.  The US Trade Representative, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Dept of Commerce, US Commercial News, and Small Business Development Centers were amazingly- and graciously-helpful along the way.  Even a BB&T Bank offered an extremely educational workshop.  It was there that I met a JMU International Business Professor, Dr Marion White, which led to SUNRNR being the focus of a semester-long project for 36 students, resulting in market assessment reports for 12 regions worldwide.  I can not thank the people associated with these resources enough.  Somewhere during those years, several dozen SUNRNRs went to Canada, Africa, and Japan.  The USTR took notice, appreciated our efforts, and extended the invitation to this roundtable.  They also, in a joint project with Commerce, featured SUNRNR as the company chosen to represent Virginia in their United States of Trade booklet published last week.

Less than 1% of the 28 million small businesses in the US have entered into export.  Why should a small business even try?  SUNRNR's vision is to leave a legacy, do something good, see small yellow boxes making and remaking energy everywhere.  These trade partnerships are intended to increase exports by streamlining customs and regulations, reducing barriers such as tariffs, opening new markets, and leveling the playing field.  We experienced the importance of these trade agreements during our sales to Canada, as NAFTA made the transaction easier and less-costly, both for us and for our customers.  We have also learned over time something else mentioned during the roundtable:  Much of the world strongly prefers products marked as "Made in America".  That label connotes quality, craftsmanship, durability, investment.  We welcome business relationship inquiries.

I understand there are controversial issues regarding TPP and TTIP that are well above my pay grade, However, for SUNRNR and other small businesses, increased, simplified export equals increased sales/growth, thus creating jobs, thus strengthening our communities, states, and America as a whole, thereby protecting her global leadership position.  What do trade partnerships mean?  They mean the world to us.