The World Trade Center Export Training Program, held twice a year by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's "World Trade Center Charleston," is making a difference for companies based in the Charleston metro area.
The program is part of the Chamber's Metro Export Plan, which aims to build global commerce throughout the region by focusing on helping small to mid-sized companies improve trade.
Frank Benson, director of sales and marketing for Rogers Brothers Peanuts - Gillespie's Peanuts, expressed his appreciation for the program in an email to Pennie Bingham, executive director of the World Trade Center Charleston in April.
In his email, Benson said Rogers Brothers Farm has sold 2,000 metric tons of peanuts to China since beginning the Strategies for Successful Exporters class in Charleston. The order translated to approximately $2.25 million in gross sales for the company’s South Carolina farm.
Benson said the knowledge he and Charles Rogers, the director of operations for Rogers Brothers Peanuts, gained from class enabled them to better identify their product HTS Code, generate more money on their shipping and freight forwarding, protect their investment and insure they get paid, and learn how to avoid potentially costly mistakes.
“Charles and I both signed up for this course, went to Charleston and the only way I can describe this is we were there for eight hours the first day, and this is a series of four-day classes that are eight hours each,” Benson told Palmetto Business Daily. “And the gentleman who taught the course really blew us out of the water with the amount of information that is available to small businesspeople like us in South Carolina, and other places that want to get into the export business. That one eight-hour class was like a semester in college to us. It was that informative.”
Benson said the program gave them insight on terms, definitions, resources and “the kind of nuts and bolts on things that little business people usually don’t have access to.”
“Examples would be how you can make money on freight, how you can protect your investment with insurance, how you can borrow money to help finance your product, how to protect it, how to speak the lingo, determining food codes and things that other countries require to receive exports or imports that we would have no knowledge of,” he said.
Rogers Brothers Farm is a family-owned and operated farm that sits on 8,000 acres, employs just 11 workers, and yields corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and peanuts. Although the company has a few employees, it is heavily mechanized and computerized — allowing it to complete with large companies, Benson said, adding that the company has exported “somewhere in the neighborhood” of $50,000 to $60,000 worth of peanuts to places like Argentina and Australia, which can be considered small shipments compared to the one sent to China.
“(Frank) is a poster child for what we are trying to accomplish,” Bingham told Palmetto Business. “We undertook a study in 2013, partnering with the Brookings Institution in Washington, to develop a strategy for the Charleston region on how we could grow (exports). So we called that the Metro Charleston Export Plan. And what we’ve learned by doing that analysis is that most companies just don’t know how to do it and they don’t know what resources are available to help them.”
Culture and language barriers also make understanding international regulations difficult at times, Bingham said.
“So we started looking at all of these inhibitors and realized what could help them could be to have a training program that was far more robust than anything we had seen on the market, and that it would encompass all of those different elements to teach them, from A-Z, how to be an exporter,” she said.
The program delves into topics like international finance, logistics, marketing and regulation, which can’t be covered in a one-day seminar.
“So this program we put together takes four days and it is done over three months,” Bingham said. “You attend one day, then you do assignments connected to that, and then you come back in two or three weeks and have another full day, and then two or three weeks and have another full day, and etcetera.”
What this does, Bingham said, is allow an individual to walk away at the end of the program with a customized expert plan for his/her company, which is what happened with Benson.
“I am a 47-and-a-half year manufacturing HR professional who retired and I chose to get back into this small business to have fun,” Benson said. "And I’ve turned it not only into a hobby, but another way for me to staying involved and help a business and become part of the trade export business. I think that is wonderful that somebody like me has been able to join forces to do exactly what I am doing.”
The program provides coaches from the U.S. Commercial Service and the Small Business Development Centers who can assist people with the creation of their customized export plan in-between class sessions. The program also connect them also with centers at the College of Charleston who serve as researchers working in specific markets, helping them to identify the best places to sell their products.
“We are in it in order to provide these economic opportunities for the companies and jobs for our state. And so that outcome is exactly what we are looking for,” Bingham said.
The program only accepts up to eight companies per session in order to maintain an intimate setting.
The next session begins on Sept. 29 and ends on Dec. 1. The four class days will be Sept. 29, Oct. 17, Nov. 7 and then a graduation on Dec. 1.
Anyone interested in the program can contact Pennie Bingham to sign up at 843-805-3073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
4500 Leeds Ave Suite 100
North Charleston, SC 29405
4500 Leeds Ave
North Charleston, SC 29405