Forum to help small rural businesses explore new opportunities

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Washington, D.C., will come to Washington County Wednesday in the form of experts providing advice and leads to small rural businesses looking to explore exporting opportunities.


The Appalachian Regional Commission is hosting a regional forum – the first of five scheduled nationwide – from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe.


The free event is part of the White House Rural Council’s Made in Rural America Export and Investment Initiative, which was started in February by President Obama. The goal is to provide federal government expertise and resources to help rural and small businesses find new markets and customers outside the country.


“What this is about is positioning rural America for success in the 21st century,” said Louis Segesvary, a spokesman for ARC, a Washington, D.C.-based regional economic development agency with a mission to increase job opportunities and income for people living in the 13-state Appalachian region.


ARC also is working to make the region economically competitive and gain a foothold in the global economy.


Attendees of this first-ever event will receive training on the basics of exporting, getting federal support and participating in major trade shows and events.


“We want to break down the barriers,” said Segesvary, adding the Cecil Township venue was chosen because of the area’s diverse business base.


Agriculture Sectretary Tom Vilsack, the keynote speaker, will talk about how rural America needs to position itself for success. Vilsack, a Pittsburgh native and former governor of Iowa, has championed the revitalization of rural America since becoming head of the USDA in 2009.


After Vilsack’s speech, Wilfred Muskens, deputy secretary of the Office of International Business Development and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, will moderate a panel discussion on how to successfully overcome export barriers.


Panel participants will include representatives from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the Small Business Development Center, the U.S. Commercial Service and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership-Catalyst Connection, a regional economic development organization that helps small manufacturers in Southwestern Pennsylvania be competitive.


Representatives of the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank of the United States then will present a workshop on popular export financing options, including how to leverage government-guaranteed lending programs and other financing options to strengthen international business success.


Lyn Doverspike, director of the Pittsburgh office of the U.S. Commercial Service, the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, will discuss engaging, competing and succeeding in a global economy. Doug McKalip, senior policy advisor for Rural Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council, will talk about new opportunities for rural businesses.


The final panel discussion will be “Benefits of Export: A Tool Box for Economic Growth.” William McCarrier, a Butler County commissioner and member of the National Association of Counties, will be the moderator. Participants will include local, regional and state officials.


Larry Maggi, chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, said there are numerous opportunities for local businesses to grow by entering international markets. And with Marcellus Shale natural gas development and drilling operations springing up, the opportunities can be endless, he said.


There are about 1,600 active gas wells in the county, according to DrillingEdge Inc., a Dripping Springs, Texas-based newsletter that tracks the oil and gas industry.


“A lot of companies have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor,” Maggi said. “We also have a lot of agriculture-related businesses, several winemakers, and we’re close to being number one in the equine industry. These are all opportunities.


“We are a booming county.”


Besides holding the five forums, the White House initiative includes an “Investing in Rural America” program to connect rural businesses with government officials, educating local officials across the country on the importance of rural exports, and training sessions for rural development staff in all 50 states.


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