San Diego Business Journal

For the past five years, World Trade Center San Diego has successfully run “Metro Connect”, an export accelerator program that helps the region’s small businesses access international markets.

Now, in the face of COVID-19, the organization is taking these efforts one step further.

The World Trade Center San Diego has contracted with the Small Business Development Center to bring an Export Specialty Center to San Diego proper. The dedicated center will be housed at the World Trade Center San Diego headquarters downtown. It will focus on small business export advising and training to help increase the number of export-ready firms in the region.

Export Support Services

“Right now, this is more important than ever,” said Nikia Clarke, executive director of the World Trade Center San Diego. “What this opportunity of establishing an export small business center does is enable us to broaden our access considerably to provide export support services to more numbers of small businesses across the region.”

The role of the Export Specialty Center at the World Trade Center is to understand the needs of the region’s small businesses and to give operators high level, tailored guidance and advice based on those needs. This may include information on what market is best for each particular business and the best service provider to help grow the international footprint quickly and efficiently.

The Small Business Development Center is essentially a small business technical provider with a network across San Diego and Imperial Valley. It is funded by the state and federal government. The World Trade Center is funded through private sector partnerships. The collaboration between the two now allows the impact to be grander not just because of the manpower and expertise but because of the combined funding efforts, said Clarke.

More Resilience

“We’ve spent the last five years building our capacity to help small businesses grow internationally because, after the last financial crisis, data showed diversifying into the international market makes you more resilient during economic downturns,” said Clarke. “So we began working with small businesses on their international plans, helping them to expand. Now, because of this partnership and because we are known for export efforts in San Diego, any small business in San Diego and Imperial Valley that wants assistance exporting can come to us and now we have the necessary resources to be able to service all of them.”

Since launching Metro Connect, Clarke said about 65 companies have graduated from the program. Collectively, these corporations have generated more than $80 million in new international sales as a result and have created more jobs locally. This is what prompted The World Trade Center to apply for the Export Specialty Center, said Clarke.

Current Economic State

Daniel Fitzgerald, acting regional director for the Small Business Development Center, said there is more need for a specialty area in exports these days. Rather than create a program from scratch, he said Small Business Development Center opted to contract with an organization that is already doing the work and doing it well.

“We wanted a specialty center for export to exist as businesses need to expand their existing marketplaces to the international market, particularly in the current economic state,” he said. “Having that specialized expertise training and advising is critical for all the businesses we assist. The number of folks that have domestic product will need to look to expand internationally. Having that expertise to handle that is important.”