WORKING HERE, SELLING THERE
DSC Dredge, a small,
Louisiana-based builder of dredges, has increased its overseas sales by
1,300 percent over the last 10 years and nearly doubled in size from 80
to 140 employees. Their biggest overseas customers? Nigeria and
Bangladesh, countries that Americans think of as impoverished but are
economic growth. The firm's overseas sales have risen from $1.4 million
a year in 2002 to over $20 million last year and make up 65 percent of
its business. Charles Sinunu, the director of international sales, said
the firm just sold three dredges to Russia and sells to 48 countries
"It's become something where it really wasn't a big deal 10 years
ago, and now it's a huge deal," he told me. "Right now, we have a record
backlog of business and are actively trying to hire additional people."
And OSIsoft of San Leandro,
California has done the seemingly impossible. While other companies have
outsourced programming and technical work to India, the $300 million
business software firm has grown from 150 to 750 employees in the last
six years. Where are its new customers? In 110 countries around the
world. Where are nearly all of its employees? Inside the U.S.
"We basically came to the conclusion that the cost of software
development outside the U.S. is more expensive," said Nand
Ramchandani, OSIsoft's director of business development and government
affairs. "We just can't afford to have negative experiences. We'd rather
develop that in-house."
A rough pattern emerged in interviews with senior executives of five
of the 41 winning firms, which sell everything from vitamins to
"waterless urinal technology" to oilseed presses. The rise of middle
classes in China, India and other developing nations was not the death
knell of the American middle class, they said. Instead, it represents an
opportunity for American businesses that are willing to adapt.
"The real war that is being waged every day is an economic war," said
Tom Kallman, a former Air Force F-15 fighter pilot whose New
Jersey-based consulting firm, Kallman Worldwide,
won an award for helping other U.S. companies export. "America's
strength and future depends as much on a strong economy as it does on
laser-guided bombs and jet fighters."
'A HORRIBLE THING'
American politics, though, is not changing fast enough, the business
leaders warned. They expressed derision for the partisan politics of
both parties in Washington.
"I can't state this strongly enough," said an executive at one of the
award-winning companies who asked not to be named. "There aren't words
in our language to express it. They are so far off base it's sad."
He and other executives said the problems come from the extreme right
and left. Last week, a Tea Party-backed bill to close the U.S.
Export-Import Bank, which lends money to U.S. firms that export, was defeated in the Senate.
Several of the businesspeople said the bank wasn't perfect but it was
an invaluable tool for countering Asian competitors, particularly
Chinese companies that receive state support. DSC Dredge's Sinunu said
the Chinese are "eating our lunch" in Africa, which now boasts seven of
the world's 10 fastest-growing economies.