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Economy & Business

Small Rural Businesses In Western PA Urged to Export

As a junior business major at Elizabethtown College, Sarah Lanphier and her mother founded “Nuts About Granola,” a wholesome snack company in York, Pa. that buys local ingredients. 

Six years later, after impressive growth, “Nuts About Granola” is a perfect example of a small rural business poised to go global, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Obama administration picked the Pittsburgh region Wednesday to launch an effort to boost exports and grow rural economies. 

Vilsack keynoted the “Made in Rural America” forum in Canonsburg, Washington County. He said several million jobs have been created over the last four years, but not many in rural areas.

“So it’s important for rural businesses, particularly small businesses, that make things, that provide services, that are in the agri-business area to understand there’s a great new opportunity to export outside the United States,” Vilsack said. “When you export your business grows, you bring wealth into the community, you bring wealth into the country, you profit better, you pay better wages, you hire more people.”

According to Vilsack, population is shrinking in rural areas because the economic opportunities are mostly focused on urban and suburban areas, “but it doesn’t have to be that way” because there are opportunities for small manufacturing, agri-companies, food processing and niche companies to export all around the world.

“We had a display (at the forum) of products that had organic apples from Western PA, that had pretzels made in Western PA, that had truck parts made in Western PA, that had lubricants made in Western PA. All are being exported helping to create a better economy in all parts of Western PA.”

According to the Commerce Department, Pennsylvania businesses exported nearly $41 billion in goods and services in 2013 with $11.6 billion going to its largest market, Canada.

However, Vilsack noted just 1 percent of American businesses export. He said part of the problem is a lack of awareness about the assistance that is available.  

“There is that attitude of, ‘Surely you’re not talking about my business where I employ five people and make a niche product, surely you’re not expecting me to think about selling to China, that can’t possibly happen,’" Vilsack said. "Once you learn how barriers can be broken down, how financing can be arranged, you all of a sudden realize, ‘Shoot, this is an opportunity.’"

And taking advantage of that opportunity can have a ripple effect. 

“When you sell domestically, my dollar goes into your pocket and then you turn around and sell something to me, that dollar goes back into my pocket," Vilsack said. "But it’s just transferring between the two of us.  When you export you bring a dollar that’s not currently in the economy, you bring that into the economy. Obviously that’s going to create growth.”