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Thursday, 02 February 2012 08:46

Service company helps ease global market entry

Written by  Kym Reinstadler
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GRAND RAPIDS — Fast-track growth that powered the American economy in the 1990s has vanished, but business leaders determined to increase sales and hire more employees can achieve their dreams by “growing global.”

But exporting goods and establishing production and distribution facilities in other lands is a labor-intensive process that most small- and midsized companies don’t have the knowledge to pull off without some expert hand-holding.

That’s where Grand Rapids-based PRA Global comes in.

The 20-year-old international business services company, headquartered in Grand Rapids since 2001, coaches growth-minded companies on how to develop foreign markets. It also employs nationals in 15 foreign nations to execute that plan on its clients’ behalf.

Scott Webb“We’re not just a consulting firm that hands over a market story to our client and says let us know how it goes,” said Scott Webb, PRA Global’s sales director. “We’re a full-service business development company. We actually have business licenses to operate and people on the ground in several foreign markets. We work together with the client until they are ready for PRA to hand over the keys.”

Offering a range of business services to build out business development plans in Southeast Asia, India, Brazil and other nations with booming economies reduces both the cost and the risk of expanding a business to a foreign country, Webb said.

Key to clients’ success is the fact that PRA Global has employees from each country and in each country where it’s doing business to represent its clients in sales, manufacturing, distribution and many back-office business functions.

Of PRA Global’s about 100 employees, 95 percent are working in foreign countries where they are from, usually representing several U.S. businesses at any one time, Webb said.

Hiring nationals is important because they can best read nuances of the business climate and can better navigate channels to accomplish business goals, Webb said. Most of the company’s international workforce were selected because they were educated at American universities, have had successful work experiences in the U.S. and embrace a global perspective on trade, he added.

A source in the manufacturing industry who used PRA’s services to enter a foreign markets in China, India and Brazil told MiBiz that PRA Global’s assistance helped the automotive supplier grow faster than if it had tried to enter the market on its own.

In 2002, the $100 million company hired PRA — then known as Pacific Rim Alliance — to do market research and advise on exporting to China. The analysis showed there was a market for the company’s products in China, and the products could be sold at a price the Chinese economy could bear, even when tariffs were added.

The supplier contracted PRA to be its overseas sales force, but within five years, it opened its own plant in China — using raw materials from Michigan. PRA helped the company set up the plant, and then exited the picture.

PRA also helped the company resolve some tax issues by having people on the ground in China meet with government officials. The problem was solved in 24 hours, less than the time it would have taken to fly an executive overseas.

PRA was launched in Taiwan in 1992 by British native David Hemmings, who wanted to facilitate shipment of raw materials to the U.S. for manufacture and shipment of finished products back to foreign markets.

He moved the business to Grand Rapids in 2001, when the growth of the middle class in emerging economies like China made the time ripe for international development of the automotive industry.

PRA’s typical customer produces automotive, medical and consumer goods and has annual sales between $10 and $500 million, Webb said.

Historically, most PRA clients have been referred by lawyers and bankers. Today, given the slowdown of the U.S. economy, interest in export services are growing.

Almost $1.5 million in federal funds were announced Oct. 1 to help Michigan small businesses develop foreign markets through the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program, part of the National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports by 2015.

Webb said he is already in discussions with West Michigan companies who are considering using PRA to help them cultivate foreign markets.

“Quality, at the end of the day, runs the longest race,” Webb said. “There are markets around the world that will pay a premium for American-made products because of their quality. We find Made-In-The-U.S.A. products are esteemed not so much for what they are, but for how they are made.”

Read 3576 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 21:43