Business leaders from across Virginia were encouraged at a statewide conference on Monday to expand exports to help create jobs and increase their enterprises.
"If you're going to grow, you're going to have to take advantage of these export opportunities," said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. Warner hosted the Richmond summit so Virginia businesses could discuss ways to expand exports to emerging nations that have a surging middle class.
"They want our jobs ... they also want our stuff," he said.
Warner, who took trade missions to Europe, Asia and Mexico during his time as governor, told attendees that Virginia has more than 5,000 companies that export goods or services, most of which have no more than 500 employees. That means nearly 3.5 percent of jobs in the state are related to exports, better than the national average.
Virginia businesses exported almost $27 billion in goods and services in 2009, ranking it as the 21st largest exporting state in the U.S., according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
The conference comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's plan announced earlier this year to double exports over the next five years, supporting 2 million American jobs.
As part of that plan, the administration launched a national export initiative to help farmers and small businesses who want to sell their goods abroad. It also has focused on reforming export control laws that stifle sales of technology that might have military uses, and pushing both international and bilateral free trade agreements.
"It's never been more important to connect U.S. businesses to the 95 percent of all of the world's consumers who live outside of our borders," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said, adding that less than 1 percent of American companies export, and a majority of those only export to one country.
"If American companies want to grow, if they want to expand, if they want to sell more, they've got to start thinking about all of those consumers."
Also speaking at the conference was Fred Hochberg, head of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which has almost doubled its loan authorization in the first half of the fiscal year to $13.2 billion when compared with the same period last year.
The summit also featured several panel discussions with representatives from state and federal agencies that help businesses with exports. Warner and Locke said the greatest challenge is helping small businesses navigate the waters of international trade and find ways to export their goods or services.