Trade Mission to South America: Powerful Signal On Tour!

Would getting involved in an official Government Trade Mission be of value to your business?
Ever wondered how such a trip is set up, run and organized?
Tech journalist Jim Carroll talks to Kevin Taylor, President of Powerful Signal,
about his recent experience of a Trade Mission to Columbia and Panama.

I’ve spoken elsewhere about the fact that unlike many other Cell Booster companies, Powerful Signal is a technology company not a parts pusher. Powerful Signal's whole ethos is based upon understanding the technologies, the markets and the key suppliers in our area of business. They're also a serious Company interested in expansion, new technologies, export and helping the economy here in Utah.

Following on from this last point and the implementation of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in May 2012, Powerful Signal was recently invited to join a government Trade Mission to Panama and Colombia sponsored by the US & Foreign Commercial Service’s Mountain West region office in Utah. The mission ran from the 10th to 14 February 2014 and was sponsored by Zions Bank (Nasdaq: ZION) and FedEx Corporation (NYSE: FDX).

Before leaving, Mark Garfield, International Banking regional manager for Zions Bank said:

“The Mountain West region is one of the fastest-growing economic areas in the United States and has seen exponential export growth over the past decade.” He continued: “We look forward to exploring opportunities to increase business with the impact of reduced tariffs and related barriers.”

Members of the Trade Mission came from a range of sectors including manufacturing, safety and security and telecommunications. And Powerful Signal’s President, Kevin Taylor, was proud to be a member of this group.

As a follow-up, Jim Carroll spoke to Kevin about his Trade Mission experience and the potential value of these trips, both to his company and those of his customers.

Jim: Hi Kevin, Thanks for talking to us about your Trade Mission trip to Columbia and Panama. How did you come to get involved?

Kevin: Well, back in December 2013, I got an email from the US Department of Commerce in Utah asking if we’d be interested in participating in the Trade Mission. The idea was that because of the Free Trade Agreement there are now great opportunities for trade between the US and these countries, in particular for Utah businesses wanting to expand in that region. The email was interesting to us because we’d already been contacted by one company in Bogota, Colombia and yet another in Panama City, Panama asking us about supplying Cellular Booster equipment for buildings, so we thought this would be a good opportunity for us to explore this market.

Jim: Sounds ideal…

Kevin: Certainly, never having been down there; and seeing that they had everything set up - the hotels, they’d fix up meetings and so on - it was a great help because it meant that we didn’t have to figure this stuff out. And as we were travelling with a group of other companies, it made it more enjoyable too.

Jim: How many companies were there and for how long?

Kevin: Let’s say around a dozen; with one or two people from each company, sometimes more. We were down there for about a week, the first four days or so in Bogota, Columbia and the remaining three days in Panama.

Jim: What was the format for the visit?

Kevin: Well, prior to going down there, I was interviewed on the telephone by the organisers to ask what kind of companies would be interested in our products. We talked about electrical contractors, high-end corporate Audio Visual suppliers/service providers, Wi-Fi companies and so on and the fact that our goal is to find a dealer down there. We were thinking: ‘We’re not looking to go down there and set up shop’. We were looking for an experienced company who could represent us effectively in those markets.
The trade mission people then set up meetings for us so that we could see whether or not there were any suitable companies.

Jim: How did that work out?
President Alberto Uribe, Columbia
Kevin: Actually it was a much more high-profile thing than I’d envisaged and it worked out extremely well. We’d arrive in the country and the US ambassador would give us a briefing on that country, what was going on. Then, in Bogota, Colombia for example, we also had a welcome from the Columbian former President, Alberto Uribe. It was great to hear about the country from the top people. It gave me confidence in the process.
Jim: I can see that… Actually, how was it that Colombia and Panama were selected for the mission? Colombia for example.
Kevin: These countries had already been selected by the US Department of Commerce people. And not being an expert, I don’t know the detail of why, but here’s my understanding…
Columbia has had a big resurgence in the past 10 years or so. The whole drugs thing, the wild west, things like that, has been addressed, and it seems that the country is now one of the most stable and democratic in the region and now they’re looking for progressive new business opportunities.
Jim: So you had the briefings. What happened next?
Kevin: Based on the interviews we’d done on the phone, which we’d done a month before the trip, the US Commercial Services people - who work for the US in various countries to help US businesses overseas; they went out and interviewed local companies and set up the schedule.

So when we got to Bogata, right after our briefing, we had a driver and an interpreter and drove around. We had seven meetings in two days: three meetings the first day, four on the second. It was Go, Go, Go… Using the interpreter, we presented ourselves to the companies in a half hour or one hour meeting; and they spoke about their interest in our products and their business in Columbia and how we might make a fit. It was the same thing in Panama but they speak more English there, so we didn’t have an interpreter. But we still had the driver.

Jim: Was that it?

Kevin: No. In each country we had a reception in the evenings to which we could invite the companies we’d been speaking to. It was hosted by the US embassy. Not at the embassy but hosted by them.  The Ambassador was there as well as other top people.
Jim: For obvious commercial reasons, I know you don’t want to speak about the specifics of the meetings you had, but would you say that being a member of the Trade Mission was a valuable experience which opened up opportunities for Powerful Signal?

Kevin: It was a valuable experience and well organised by the US Department of Commerce and the local Embassy staff.

From our point of view, we sort of approached it like a Trade Show. You go to a trade show and everybody that comes on the booth is interested in what you’ve got. So at the show you get all this excitement. But after the trade show, you only ever hear from a couple of people. The ones who are really interested in the products. All the others fall by the wayside. So to us, this trip was a little bit like having a South American trade show. Every company we saw said they were interested. But were they just being polite or were they really interested? It was a case of “Wait and see”.

Jim: Okay. So now it’s all over, would you recommend to your business customers taking up the opportunity of going on a Trade Mission?

Kevin: It depends. As I said the whole thing was extremely well organised. And from our point of view it saved us a lot of time and effort in exploring a new market. Don’t forget we’d already had a couple of enquiries before I went. So if the Mission’s to a market that you want to look at and you have products which you feel will sell in those markets, then go for it.

But if you think that somehow by just going there with US Department of Commerce support, business will appear… Forget it. Treat the decision to go just like a trade show. Is it worth the time and expense? Is it a potential market for your products? If the answer’s “Yes.” Go.  But don’t expect instant results. Just like a show, you’ll end up measururing the success of a Trade Mission trip in the numbers of orders or quality of contacts you’ve made in the months after the show.

Jim: Thanks Kevin. It was good to talk to you again.
written: 4/21/2014