Exporting Illinois

Springfield-area businesses thrive in global markets


If business is slow here in Illinois, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce has a suggestion: Look for customers outside of the country.

Carlinville native Sherry Brianza is proud that her line of cosmetic products, sold nationally and worldwide, are packaged with a central Illinois label.

 “Everyone in Carlinville finds it quite humorous,” says Brianza, founder and president of Brianza Bella, a company based in central Illinois. But Illinois business owners at the Capital City Training Center June 23 weren’t laughing. They were taking notes on how to include exports in their business plans.

Brianza Bella is one of three businesses based in or near Springfield represented at the panel discussion during Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Exports Week. The statewide event complements a national goal set by President Barack Obama to double American exports by 2014.

Illinois increased exports by nearly 20 percent since 2010, according to the Illinois Office of Trade and Development. Exports grew by 30 percent in the first quarter of the fiscal year.  

It’s no longer what’s in your backyard when it comes to marketing a business, says Diane Reinhart, vice president of business development and attraction with the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

“It used to be that we would market our local communities and then the state of Illinois and the Midwest and various regions,” she says. “Now it’s all gone global and international.”

There are now 11 international trade centers statewide, including one at Bradley University in Peoria, which connect businesses of all sizes to resources that will help them to succeed in trading on an international level. Trade centers are funded through the federal government, through the host site and Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity.

“Illinois is a dynamic and perfectly positioned logistical gateway to trade,” says Mary Roberts, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Trade and Development.    

 Peoria-based Caterpillar has made exports 70 percent of its overall business, and 30 percent of those exports come from Illinois, according to Roberts.

Illinois is number two in agricultural exports in the nation, according to Bobby Dowson, from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

 Others like Hank Vosbein have been shipping products out of state since 2001, but not exporting. Vosbein’s meat business quadrupled after he began shipping products to other states. Now the Decatur businessman wants to export fresh poultry and smoked products to Mexico and South America.

“If it’s viable, we want to jump into it,” he says.

Clarkson Grain Co., based in Cerro Gordo and with locations along the Illinois River and in Beardstown, began by exporting specialty soybeans more than 20 years ago and now ships corn, soybeans and organic products to the Caribbean.

With more demand for grain in foreign countries, Wyatt Muse says exporting provides great business for the company.

Founder and CEO of Springfield-based Lamboo, Luke Schuette, started exporting bamboo manufacturing materials for windows, doors and yachts in early 2009. Schuette says it wasn’t easy to start exporting products with the recession in fall 2008.

“We had products in Germany just sitting around,” he says. Foreign buyers were hesitant to sell Schuette’s products because of the poor economy. But he and the bamboo company made it through the recession and now the company successfully ships to Europe and South America.

“It makes sense that 10 years ago, if you could sell to your neighbor in Iowa, that was a whole lot easier than having to venture out and sell abroad,” says Roberts. “But I’m confident that our Illinois companies, once they get in the game, they’ll push up their sleeves and it’s no different.”

To find out more about exporting your local business services or products, contact the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce at 525-1173.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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