Grant County Businesses Traveled to South Korea to Explore New Markets

Posted on May 27, 2016

Sout Korea DelegationBusiness owners from Grant County traveled to South Korea April 26 for a 8-day trade mission to explore export opportunities for Eastern Washington products ranging from flour to exercise equipment.

Ray Towry, president of Grant County Economic Development Council (EDC), headed the nine-person delegation. “This is an amazing opportunity to directly introduce five Grant County-based businesses to markets abroad,” Towry said.

Towry said five business owners were part of the delegation, but they represented several other companies including Fresh Nature Foods, Cascade Mills Flour, Trinidad Lavender, Whiskey Gap Distillery, Bartelson Transport, Bowman Orchards and reACT Trainer.

Other members of the delegation include Vern Jenkins, an international trade specialist with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and Allan Peterson, an SBDC business advisor located in Moses Lake.

“These companies have already been working on export opportunities in South Korea with recent market research provided by the Washington SBDC intern research team,” Jenkins said, “so we know that the potential for export sales is there. This mission is an important step in developing the face-to-face relationships that are so important in international trade.”

Ray Towry Speaking in South KoreaThe group visited various cities in South Korea, but most of their meetings were in Gunpo, which is just south of Seoul. Jenkins, who works with small business owners to build export readiness and export capacity, said Kyle Kim of the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) and Danny Kim, a representative with the Washington State Department of Ag Representative, were extremely helpful in setting up one-on-one meetings for this business-to-business trade event.

According to Peterson, this business-to-business trade mission was organized as a follow-up to a visit a Gunpo delegation made to Grant County in September 2015. Grant County and Gunpo have had a Sister City relationship since 2003, but when Peterson learned a group of business and civic leaders would be visiting in fall 2015, he offered to set up a small trade expo of Eastern Washington products. The trade expo was so successful that those involved wanted to keep the momentum going.

“The great thing about exporting, especially in rural areas, is that businesses are finding new markets or new customers outside the U.S., but the jobs are staying here,” Peterson said.

According to Peterson, the business owners received STEP grants from the Washington Department of Commerce to help defray the cost of airfare, but are otherwise paying their own expenses.

“Developing a strong export plan can really transform a business,” Peterson said, “and it’s exciting for the SBDC to be able to walk this journey with our clients.”

Towry, who has been with Grant County EDC since 2012 and is director of Recreation, Tourism and Public Relations for the City of Ephrata, said he is excited to see a traditional Sister City relationship grow into an economic partnership and he credits the SBDC with making that happen.

“The work that Allan and Vern have put into this, to develop a traditional “sister city” relationship into an economic partnership, could pay huge dividends for our region,” he said. “It was a great idea on their part.”

The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBDC in Moses Lake is also affiliated with the Grant County Economic Development Council, a non-profit organization.