If businesses want to grow, they have to get creative, experts say.
Maciek Szaferski, a local business owner, encourages others to go global in their search for new customers and suppliers.
It’s not as difficult as it seems to be, said the president and co-owner of EDM Products Direct, an import/distribution/wholesale operation at 2205 Bremer Road.
Szaferski, who buys products directly from Chinese manufacturers, is one of three local business leaders scheduled to speak at the 20th annual CEO Forum at the University of Saint Francis. This year’s theme is The Future of Entrepreneurship: Redefining the Marketplace.
The keynote speaker will be Todd Schwartz, deputy special representative for commercial and business affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
Schwartz joined the State Department in 1987. The Dayton native works in Washington after numerous overseas postings, including to Germany, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.
He’ll talk about the global business climate and what opportunities exist for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Schwartz, who spoke to The Journal Gazette in a phone interview late last month, said most people think the State Department deals only with foreign affairs.
But that’s not true.
Our job is to represent and advance the interests of the United States of America, he said, adding that those interests aren’t isolated to Washington.
They include the needs of people living and doing business in Fort Wayne, Dayton and other cities, he said.
Advancing national interests includes helping U.S. companies grow and establish business relationships with customers and suppliers overseas in the more than 190 countries where the U.S. operates 270 embassies and consulates, Schwartz said.
His office provides advice and assistance in resolving trade disputes and other challenges companies might encounter.
The State Department offers at least two programs that might interest local business owners, Schwartz said.
Direct Line webinars and conference calls connect American business owners with ambassadors or other U.S. officials stationed overseas.
The federal employees are trained to identify emerging markets and new developments that might affect trade, such as a new trade or lease agreement that might make it easier for Americans to do business in another country.
The sessions last about an hour with a 15- to 20-minute briefing followed by 30 to 40 minutes of questions and answers.
So far, Schwartz said, about 75 percent of participants have been small- and medium-sized companies. And about 75 percent of those say they’ll use the information they learned during the briefing to make business decisions.
The second program is the Business Information Database System. The BIDS list, which is updated by State Department staff, tracks projects coming up for bid in other countries.
The BIDS project was launched after federal officials identified the potential for U.S. companies to build infrastructure projects in foreign countries, said Schwartz, who meets regularly with officials from the Small Business Administration and the Commerce and Agriculture departments.
The State Department official also talks to individual businesses and business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to understand their needs. He investigates solutions to their challenges.
Schwartz’s office trains overseas State Department staff on ways to help U.S. businesses jump through hoops to export to various countries. If U.S. embassies can’t help companies directly, they refer businesses to people who can help.
It really has to come back to jobs and exports, he said.
Szaferski would like to add imports to that mix.
His company, EDM Products Direct, sells to consumers – including walk-in customers – and to other businesses. It specializes in musical instruments, art supplies, tools, pet supplies and other non-food items.
We’re like the Wal-Mart of the Internet, said Szaferski, who is a native of Warsaw, Poland.
Szaferski plans to expand his supplier roster to include companies in India and Thailand or Taiwan. In the meantime, he buys most items in China, where he continues to cultivate new partnerships.
If he can do it, so can other local business owners, he said. Being from Poland doesn’t given him any particular advantage over Americans in forging those business relationships.
Because in Warsaw, we speak fluent Mandarin, right? he said, laughing.
EDM, which employs six, has more than $3 million in annual sales.
Other local business owners on the CEO Forum’s agenda are Scott Glaze, CEO of Fort Wayne Metals Research Products Corp., and Lori Berndt, president of The Olive Twist, an olive oil and vinegar tasting bar with a presence in Fort Wayne, Auburn and online.
Glaze will discuss how operations overseas, partnerships and a focus on exports have increased his company’s sales by one-third.