Business Across Borders

The Southern United States Trade Association shepherds, and sparks, commerce overseas.

Anon-profit organization that’s a unique banding of state and federal agencies along with hundreds of private business entities, the Southern United States Trade Association has been a champion for local producers of high-value food and agricultural products since 1973.

SUSTA was founded by the Departments of Agriculture and established in 15 southern states along with Puerto Rico. Facilitating a catalog of networking programs, marketing services and financial reimbursements for small-to-medium sized companies that fall under the employee count requirement according to Small Business Administration guideline, SUSTA opens the door to foreign markets.

SUSTA assists more than 300 food and agriculture companies in some capacity on average annually.

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“For companies looking for an opportunity to grow, the international market is a good choice,” said Bernadette Wiltz, the executive director of SUSTA. “Buyers in foreign countries want U.S. products. And when you do export, it expands and diversifies your reach as a company. So, for example, if the domestic market is kind of down, international markets can be the means to continue your business and watch it grow.

“We do a lot of outreach to companies within our membership and within our region about ‘Going Global,’” Wiltz continued. “And we’re there for them to help them identify what their international strategies are…And what we also provide is the assurance that, ‘You don’t have to go to these international markets alone. We’re there for you.’”

The first phase of SUSTA’s goal to expose domestic producers to international buyers occurs at one of many “Global Events” that the non-profit organizes. These are often the “gateway” for local companies that are completely green when it comes to exporting. SUSTA’s activity managers, who come from the state Departments of Agriculture in the southern region, coupled with in-country foreign consultants, actively introduce members to new export areas. As Wiltz said, “We carry them from the beginning to the end in these international markets to give them an opportunity to meet foreign buyers.”

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Once foreign connections are formed, SUSTA helps maximize these companies’ international marketing potential through its CostShare initiative. Designed to encourage a gamut of promotional activities abroad, CostShare reimburses up to 50 percent of marketing expenses to eligible companies – substantially enhancing their advertising/outreach potential. That includes everything from sending reps to attend or exhibit at trade shows in Europe, modifying labeling or packaging for products sold in South America, or even launching a billboard campaign in Asia.

Application for the CostShare program opens up every year on August 1. Companies wishing to participate must apply for the reimbursement by formally outlining their complete international marketing strategy – breaking down every facet of their advertising, promotional and production assistance plan.

“We don’t necessarily serve as consultants for the companies, but we certainly will bring in experts and host seminars to assist and train those companies in a variety of areas,” Wiltz said. “Our goal is to provide value-added services to these companies so they can find the right market for their products.”

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A lot of that initial commercial match-making – linking domestic producers with foreign buyers – is done by the activity managers from the 16 state Departments of Agriculture that founded SUSTA. They do much of the groundwork, Wiltz said, such as identifying the key markets, who are the key buyers and effective strategies to target them within those markets.

“There’s a lot of prep work that goes into all this; when we bring a small-to-medium [sized] company to a market, we’ve already pre-arranged the necessary meetings and steps to facilitate our companies to make a sale,” Wiltz said. “We help the little guys.”

-William Kalec

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