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World Trade Center on a Mission (3 Actually) to Help Firms Grow

Traveling with an international trade mission can open doors and find connections, but don’t expect an immediate contract from the experience, says Bella Heule, president of the San Diego World Trade Center, which is leading missions to China and Vietnam next month.

In Asia, it takes time to develop business relationships, says Heule, whose nonprofit organization helps regional companies find international markets, and is part of the worldwide WTC network of about 300 centers.

“The process of finding potential partners takes more time than it does here,” Heule said. “In Asia, and particularly China, business is all about relationships, all about trust, and about getting to know your partner.”

Heule’s work will keep her busy this year, with the local WTC essentially leading three separate missions to China and Vietnam from March 10-30.

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The first trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, from March 10-19, includes meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in China, and networking events. Participants will also attend the first ever major league baseball game played in Beijing, as the San Diego Padres take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in exhibition play.


Servicing Their Needs

The second trip, from March 17-24, is geared to service providers who will meet with Chinese companies in three “second tier” cities: Chongqing, Xiamen and Quanzhou. The cities were selected because of the WTC’s connections and are not as flooded with U.S.-based service providers as some other larger Chinese cities. Among the types of businesses participating in this mission are finance, accounting, logistics, marketing and law firms.

The third mission, from March 23-30, is to Vietnam and visits its two major cities: Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Hanoi.

Scott Wang, director of San Diego WTC’s Asia Desk, is accompanying all three missions and says he’s looking forward to the experience. “I have been in this business for the past five years. I think I can handle it.”

A native of China, Wang says the biggest challenge in leading the sometimes disparate groups of businesspeople is finding the right balance between serving the group’s interests with the interests of the individuals.

The missions always set aside some times when there aren’t any event or networking parties scheduled, and individuals can structure their own meetings, he says.


Taking A Quantum Leap

David Shultz, chief financial officer for Quantum Design, a San Diego-based maker of scientific measuring equipment, will be attending his fourth trade mission when he links up with the first group. Shultz says he’ll already be in Beijing visiting his company’s office, which it opened in 2004.

Quantum Design gets about 65 percent of its sales from international clients, including a large chunk from China.

Shultz says he joins the missions to boost his firm’s name and because they provide a good platform for making local connections.

“You spend some intensive time with others who are on the trips, and that leads to new ideas for your company. I get as much benefit from that as the networking sessions while in the country,” he said.

Elizabeth Foster, a partner with Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps LLP and chairman of the WTC’s board, says there has been more interest from many U.S. companies in recent years in Vietnam, generally viewed as a cheaper nation in which to set up manufacturing operations.

“More companies are looking beyond China to other parts of Asia. For some manufacturers, China has gotten too expensive,” Foster said.


Benefits For Small And Large Firms

Wang says participants in the missions tend to come from small and medium-sized companies; and large corporations that either already have a presence in the countries or the ability to find the right people when discussing business deals.

The missions provide smaller companies the ability to participate in meetings with higher level government officials, and learn firsthand about a country’s economy and business traditions, he says.

Missions also can be cost-effective for companies, saving them money on transportation and hotels because of the numbers involved, Heule says. The upcoming missions range from $3,500 to $4,000 per person, including airfare and hotels.

The San Diego World Trade Center has been leading missions to places such as Japan, Hong Kong, India and Singapore for the past 10 years, and does at least one mission every year.

This year’s missions aren’t taking as many as in some years , 15 people had signed up as of last week. The deadline to register is early March, but rates may be higher at that time, Wang says.

Traveling in foreign countries usually results in interesting stories about things not always going as planned, Wang says.

“We’ve never lost anyone, but I’ll never forget the time we had to leave someone behind. When he got to the airport (in Los Angeles), we found out he never got his visa, and he was unable to board.”

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