PORTLAND, Ore.—Griffith Rubber Mills is among a group of manufacturers in Portland that could benefit from a business plan developed to spur economic growth through exporting.
The Greater Portland Export Initiative, developed by Portland area business leaders and the Brookings Institute, is intended to help businesses find new markets for their products.
That is welcome news for Jennifer Laney, president of Griffith Rubber. Her Portland-based company manufactures industrial custom rubber products, standard extruded or molded items and Stanlock Glazing Gaskets.
"New markets could bring an increase in overall production which contributes to overall competitiveness," Laney said. "However, I believe being competitive relies on more than just new markets. A company has to be efficient, have excellent quality and customer service."
Laney said one of her company's biggest challenges is letting customers know which applications are best suited for rubber. She said her company knows how to build its market share domestically, but she said the firm does not have that same level of expertise to build its customer base abroad.
That is how the export plan could help.
As part of their goals, leaders of the Export Initiative will identify approximately 10 mid- to large-size, under-exporting advanced manufacturing companies with the greatest potential for export growth and help them.
This strategy is designed to leverage exporters more effectively, catalyze under-exporters, build an ongoing export pipeline for the region, and brand and market the global edge the Portland area provides. A dedicated economic development team has been established to focus on maintaining and enhancing the impact of industries such as computer and electronics, manufacturing, industry supply chain development and more.
"Export markets represent growth opportunities for companies, and by expanding sales in growing markets, they can increase profits, diversify markets and grow their work force," said Greater Portland Inc.'s Derrick Olsen, a former Oregon state investment recruiter who serves as staff quarterback. "Exporting helps make companies even more competitive in the U.S. market."
Currently, Griffith Rubber's exports are driven mainly by existing customers expanding to offshore production facilities, Laney said. Some of its products lend themselves to being exported easily; others are more regional.
"Most of our products are customer specific," she said. "Air induction is one of the few product lines we have that lends itself to being an off-the-shelf item."
Laney is interested in expanding her company's reach in heavy equipment, heavy truck and agriculture. But within those markets, her company wants assistance with business development.
"We are challenged by foreign competitors because labor costs are lower off shore, and benefits are scarce if they exist at all," Laney said. "I also have seen instances where we are held to a different quality standard than some of our off-shore competitors.
"There is a cost to producing a quality part consistently that domestic suppliers bear the burden of. If we produced to the quality level as some of our off-shore competitors, I believe our price would be lower as well."
Companies that export consistently told the Brookings Institute that if not for exports, their revenues would have stag¬nated or declined the past few years, likely resulting in job cuts. That prompted the establishment of the National Export Initiative.
Laney said Griffith Rubber Mills has experienced a "slow growth period for a multitude of reasons, but we are growing. We have a determined and active sales force, but we have challenges."
The pilot programs found companies fear exporting because of a lack of experience, and they lack awareness of the global opportunities and services available. The export initiative could push a company out of its comfort zone and provide guidance on how to secure more exporting opportunities.