State’s overseas offices have value

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POINT OF VIEW by Sherwin Pomerantz

EDITORS NOTE: This letter to the editor was reprinted in its entirety courtesy THE DAILY OKLAHOMAN and can be found in the April 23, 2003 issue.

“QUESTIONS still unanswered after state overseas trade audit” (news story, March 23) was critical of the operation of Oklahoma’s overseas offices and questioned the value these offices bring to the state. The impression left by the article is that the offices are neither a good investment on the part of the state nor do they serve any real value as far as encouraging export development for Oklahoma’s manufacturers. I believe that both premises are inaccurate.

On the issue of encouraging export development, we have been working in the eastern Mediterranean region on behalf of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce for the last three years. During that period we have been in contact with dozens of Oklahoma-based companies, mostly small- to medium- sized manufacturers, many of whom cannot afford to explore export markets on their own. As a result of our working with those companies we have been able to chalk up a number of successes which include:

An Oklahoma City-based manufacturer of skin therapy products for use by diabetics that has seen the development of new export sales to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.

A Shawnee-based producer of earth-boring tools and cutting heads that has exported product to an UAE client.

An Edmond-based manufacturer of traffic signals and related equipment that has exported material to the Jebel Ali industrial zone in the UAE.

A Stillwater-based consulting group in the agronomy sector that has realized export sales to this region.

A Yale-based producer of goat milk herbicides and pesticides that has achieved market access in the region.

A Tulsa-based producer of natural bacteria and enzyme products for waste control and environmental problems now is exporting products to Israel.

World markets are competitive and Oklahoma manufacturers compete head-to-head with other United States companies whose states also have overseas offices, as well as with many foreign countries that maintain similar programs abroad. If Oklahoma is not represented in these markets, the losers will be these local companies that simply have no other means to be represented.

As far as the investment is concerned, Oklahoma spends pitifully little on its export development program as compared to some of its competitors, yet does realize tremendous value.

Our case here in Israel is the state’s dream as, at least until now, all of our fees have been paid by the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, a group of private business people in the state who care enough about this activity to also “put their money where their mouth is.” While even their investment is relatively small (about $15,000 annually), there can be no doubt that this public-private partnership brings significant value to Oklahoma exporters well beyond the minimal investment involved.

During difficult economic times the last thing a business would want to do is eliminate its marketing department, as that department is the source of growth. For Oklahoma, the marketing department is, in fact, the state’s overseas offices. Closing them or cutting back on their budgets is the clear manifestation of the old adage, “penny-wise and pound- foolish.”

Prudent financial management would dictate that, if anything, the budgets for these offices should be increased as their continued operation is critical to the state’s economic growth.

Pomerantz, a 19-year resident of Israel, is director of the Israel office of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, headquartered in Jerusalem.