Sunday, May 5, 2002

"Other than Japanese cars, and maybe now Japanese electronics, Americans do not understand the impact." -- Mitch Robinson, industrial recruiter.

Area industries reciprocate business relationship with foreign markets

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

Paul Wiedlin has a wallet full of euros and a bad case of jet lag.

As president of Nordenia USA, Wiedlin recently returned from a weeklong trip that took him from a board meeting in Germany, where the parent company is located, to a business review conference in Canada.

"All the traveling sounds glamorous," said Wiedlin, who oversees the Jackson, Mo., packaging plant. "But when you know more people who work for the airlines than you do other people, something's definitely wrong with your life."

But Wiedlin -- who estimates that 20 to 25 percent of Nordenia's products are shipped outside the United States -- would be the first to tell you that his life is no different than many other company presidents who work in a global economy.

"It's part of the job," he said. "We have customers and plants all over the world, so that's where we have to be and that's where we have to go. It's just the way things have become. The world gets smaller and smaller."

If the immigrant small-business owner is the smallest part of the global market, industries like Nordenia -- and others in Southeast Missouri -- who see the whole world as a potential customer go much further in defining globalization.

Globalization comes down to the world becoming increasingly connected through lightning-quick communication and easy travel. Some would argue globalization is most important as it pertains to the economy and business world.

Economists will tell you that globalization -- whether it's through foreign-owned businesses or by exports and imports -- helps create jobs, bolsters the economy and diversifies communities. Studies show global companies earn more, grow those earnings faster and fail less frequently than comparable, but more insular, companies.

Missouri reaching out

Locally, those connections have opened up a world of ties to area industries.

In some cases, the connections are obvious: German-based Nordenia, Japanese-owned TG Missouri in Perryville and Cape Girardeau's BioKyowa, the first Japanese company in Missouri.

Nordenia, with 22 plants across the globe, does business worldwide. But BioKyowa, which makes animal feed supplements, does almost no business outside the country. The same is true with TG Missouri, which manufactures automobile parts primarily for Toyota and does most of its business with American-based automobile companies.

Some other area industries -- Proctor & Gamble, Rubbermaid, Gilster-Mary Lee and others -- rely more heavily on foreign markets and products.

"In today's market you have to think and act globally or you're going to get left behind," said Proctor & Gamble company spokesman Jay Gooch.

Proctor & Gamble, a local and international industry powerhouse, markets its products to more than 5 billion consumers in 130 countries, through here that is limited as P&G tries to sell its products in the regions its plants are located.

But even at the local level, globalization is a factor for the Cape Girardeau County plant, one of the region's largest employers with 1,600 workers. P&G imports tons of pulp paper each year from British Columbia and South America to make its diapers, paper towels and toilet paper.

Almost all of what the plant in Cape Girardeau makes is marketed in the Midwest, Gooch said, but they're always looking to expand.

"We have paper products that we're continually trying to grow beyond the United States," Gooch said.

Andy Killebrew is vice president of human resources at Rubbermaid Closet Organization Products in Jackson, Mo. He said that most of their closet supplies are manufactured here and at their facility in the state of California.

But he said they do import some wire from China to make items such as shower caddies, shoe racks, clothes hangers and other accessories. He guessed that makes up 20 percent of their volume.

He said exports are limited, but Rubbermaid products do follow retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to other countries.

"But we need those products from China to make our products," he said.

At Gilster-Mary Lee, a Chester, Ill.-based business with four plants in Perry County, cereal, popcorn, stuffing and cake mixes are manufactured and shipped to places like the Middle East, South Africa and the Caribbean. It also imports cocoa from Africa for its cereal and devil's food cake, and the company imports oats from Canada.

"The largest portion of our business is in the United States, but our foreign business is very important to us," said Don Welge, president and general manager. "We do a lot in Canada and ship a number of trucks a week to Canada. We sell more to the Middle East during the Ramadan holiday period. I guess they can eat certain things during Ramadan."

Gilster also makes items for U.S. companies with a presence in other countries. Welge said he estimates 10 percent of their products end up on shelves outside America.

"It's a relatively small part of our business, but we'd like it to be more," he said. "Doing business with other countries is only good business."

Low global awareness

Most people never think about such global ties, said Mitch Robinson, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Area Industrial Recruitment Association.

"Other than Japanese cars, and maybe now Japanese electronics, Americans do not understand the impact," Robinson said. "But if you stop and think about Gilster needing cocoa -- there sure aren't any cocoa trees in Southeast Missouri."

Robinson said many businesses prove to be quite successful in the international market. Just last year, Missouri businesses exported $6.88 billion in total products.

The state's top export partners include Canada and Mexico. Those countries are followed by Belgium, Japan, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and China. Together, these countries account for 68.1 percent of Missouri's total exports.

Globalization has also become a factor in recruiting businesses.

"It's no longer us versus the state across the river," Robinson said. "It's now us versus the state across the river and three or four other countries across the world."

Robinson said foreign businesses and American businesses generally are looking for the same things. He said they want to know if there's a transportation network, a strong workforce and competitive utility rates.

There is one difference.

"They want to know if the community is receptive to outside investments," he said.

Robinson likened it to American sentiments toward Germans and Japanese after World War II. "For the most part, people have gotten past that, but it's a question."

Bill Hinckley, manager of the BioKyowa plant, said BioKyowa looked at several things before deciding on Cape Girardeau.

"It's centrally located for a lot of the producers of pork and poultry, and that's our business," Hinckley said. "One of our raw materials was molasses, and we could get it here by barge. We liked that Cape was on the river. It's close to markets and ready, raw material, and it has a good workforce."

Hinckley said the power of the American dollar also was enticing.

"The dollar's strong," he said. "With all those factors, why not come here?"

Rural attraction

Many foreign businesses also like to locate in rural parts of the United States, where there's not a lot of other manufacturing, said David Milam, TG Missouri's senior general manager of corporate administration. That means a stronger workforce, he said.

In the case of TG Missouri, owners liked the fact that Perryville was also close to Interstate 55. They rely on the highway system to transport its parts, he said.

Robinson said that every business, whether it's headquartered on Broadway or in Belgium, plays a role.

"You can't rank one over another," he said. "They all provide jobs, pay taxes and buy our goods. But, when it comes to other countries, it's good to have another market to draw from."

335-6611, extension 137

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