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Local group talks international business at quarterly breakfast
International business
Michael Theisen-Jones, senior manager with Global Business Development, discusses challenges and opportunities for international business during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly international engagement breakfast at Beaver Toyota on Wednesday. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Forsyth County is home to businesses from across the world, and this week, business leaders met to discuss the opportunities and challenges of dealing with worldwide business.

On Wednesday morning, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted its quarterly international engagement breakfast at Beaver Toyota, where speakers laid out state resources, advantages and challenges and local examples of international businesses. 

Taube Ponce, senior international trade manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said most of the companies in the state involved in international trade are small businesses with less than 100 employees.

“We always tell companies it doesn’t matter how big you are, what matters is your commitment to exporting and your realization that it does take commitment and a focus and working with all the resources that are available around the state,” Ponce said, “and many of them are very successful, especially when it’s a product that has a competitive edge.”

Ponce said Georgia’s biggest international exports include aircraft, medical equipment, electronics and poultry but non-physical products are also becoming more popular.

“Cyber-tech, [financial technology] services, all of those are very hot right now,” she said.

Michael Theisen-Jones, senior manager of Global Business Development with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, said his company is involved both with bringing foreign businesses to Atlanta and educating local companies about the benefits of international trade.

“A lot of companies still don’t really see the value of selling their products [internationally,]” he said. “In fact, less than 1 percent of U.S. companies export and 98 percent of those companies are small to medium-sized businesses.”

Theisen-Jones said some of the most popular countries for trade were Germany, Australia, Canada and Mexico.

Two Forsyth County companies selling products overseas also had a chance to speak at the meeting.

Starting off was Andy Mahler, co-founder and chief operating officer for LivFul Inc., which provides insect repellents made from algae and mushroom extracts. Interestingly, the products cannot be sold domestically.

“We’ve gone through all of our testing from a toxicology standpoint as well as the technology as well as the efficacy. We’re in the process with the EPA,” Mahler said. “We can’t sell it in the United States until we clear EPA, so the international market, to us, is very important.”

Mahler said the company was able to receive a grant and other resources from the department of economic development and other groups to grow into the international market.

Andy Jaskowiak, president with Quantum Pharm Rx International, said his business has expanded to the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Asia.

“Some of these countries, they’re too small to attract big pharma, but everyone needs the product,” he said.

Near the end of the meeting, speakers took questions from the audience and discussed other issues, including how current issues with trade with other countries, particularly China, are impacting local business.

Robert Long, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development, said there has been a dip this year in the number of international projects.

Ponce said the impact depends on the business.

“Some of our companies have been very much impacted: the ones that use imported steel or even those that never used imported steel, only used U.S. steel, but now the U.S. steel is a lot more expensive and has longer lead times,” she said. “The supply has not caught up with the demand, so we’ve met companies that can’t get it and have had their companies and their sales suffer tremendously. We’ve had companies that have had to cut back their investments and even growth because of it.”