LATER THIS month, Gov. Maggie Hassan and I will accompany representatives of seven New Hampshire companies on a trade mission to Turkey, the first in several years. We are excited about the prospect of making connections in a country whose economy is vibrant and eager to do business with us.
International trade plays a vital role in our state’s economy, and the Legislature recognized this when it passed the bipartisan budget, which included funding for the state to resume trade missions. The International Trade Resource Center has organized trade missions over the past 15 years to countries including Brazil, Chile, England, France, India, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. The cumulative result of these trips was tens of millions of dollars in contracts to businesses and manufacturers right here at home and relationships that helped to keep our state strong in challenging times.
A key to growth and prosperity for any company is the ability to find new customers. Securing global markets diversifies the bottom line. Trade missions offer connections and opportunities for our companies, which typically don’t have the means to hire export specialists. With a trade mission, we can offer resources to open many doors in a short time, such as partnering with the U.S. Department of Commerce and local business organizations in the host country to find potential partners.
Having the governor lead the mission elevates our companies as they meet with business and government organizations. This would not happen for a business going it alone. When New Hampshire, and the nation, suffered through the recession a few years ago, we weathered it far better than some of our neighbors. This was in large part because our businesses sought out overseas markets to diversify their customer base, gain more orders and, most importantly, keep their employees working. That’s why in 2010 we set a record for exporting, sending $4.4 billion worth of goods around the world.
In 2013, New Hampshire led the nation in export growth, increasing its merchandise exports by more than 22 percent, to $4.3 billion. This demonstrates that our businesses and manufacturers can design, create and make products and components that are in demand around the world.
The momentum continues into 2014. Planning began months ago for the state’s first overseas trade mission since 2011 and included months of research, discussion about the needs of our businesses and where the demand is for their products and services.
Turkey quickly emerged as an important market for several reasons: It’s our 12th largest trading partner; last year we sent $79 million in goods and services there. Its geographical location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East makes it an attractive hub and there are increasing opportunities for our businesses, especially in areas such as aerospace and defense, health and medical technologies, education and construction machinery.
With the assistance of the Turkish Cultural Center in Manchester and the partnership with TUSKON (representing seven business federations, 202 business associations and more than 50,000 entrepreneurs), we have arranged five full days of introductions, meetings and networking for our businesses in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as a news conference providing even wider exposure for the state.
In March, the state was running $25 million ahead of its revenue plan for the year, a solid fiscal position. April revenues fell significantly short of the previous year, although the state continues to run $3.9 million over its projections.
As a precaution in case revenues continue to fall, Gov. Hassan issued an executive order that includes a freeze on out-of-state travel. At that time, the governor and I, our businesses and our partners had discussions about whether to cancel the trade mission. But the state, the participating companies and our partners in Turkey had already made significant financial investments into this trade mission, months before revenues dropped and the freeze was enacted.
I cannot overstate the value of international trade to New Hampshire’s economy and how eager our businesses are to explore exporting and to send their goods to global markets. The Legislature agreed. To cancel this trade mission would result in significant losses not only to our businesses, but in potential economic growth for New Hampshire.
Jeffrey Rose is commissioner of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.