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Rally Behind Entrepreneurs

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Joel Richardson, executive-director of the Economic Development export and development branch.
Photo: Stephen MacGillivray/ The Daily Gleaner

Joel Richardson is leading New Brunswick’s new export strategy

As published in the Telegraph-Journal May 18, 2013

Recently named by the International Economic Development Council as one of the “Top 40 under 40” in economic development worldwide, Joel Richardson is admittedly humbled that his talent has been recognized with this award. Receiving this kind of recognition is rare when working within the public sector. Joel admits it was nice to be acknowledged for many years of service helping companies grow in New Brunswick and working with a goal of helping the province thrive and prosper.

Joel’s worked for the government of New Brunswick since 1995 in a variety of capacities and departments, but always in an economic/business development role. He is currently the executive-director of export development for the Department of Economic Development and is leading the province’s new export strategy called “Growing Global Markets.” As a former two-term Fredericton city councilor, past president of the New Brunswick Cities Association and past chair of the Atlantic Caucus for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Joel has experience and knowledge of working at the municipal level that rounds out his public sector experience.

Joel also happens to come from a very entrepreneurial family. His wife, Laura, owns a business consulting firm; his mother, Diana, owns a nutritional products company in Saint John and he and his family operate a cottage maple syrup operation each spring.

I began our interview by asking Joel what strengths he feels New Brunswick brings to the global business community.

A: I believe there are many. We have a strong reputation for being a very progressive jurisdiction. We’re known for our innovation, for leading telecommunications services and infrastructure and for abundant natural resources. We also have an educated workforce and very competitive corporate tax rates.

[Tweet “We have a strong reputation in NB for being a very progressive jurisdiction. – Joel Richardson”]

Q: What are some of the challenges in selling New Brunswick to the global market?

A: The challenge is creating a higher level of awareness and communicating our strengths to more distant markets. We need to do more work to promote New Brunswick products to more global markets.

Q: Are there challenges inside of the province when it comes to the idea of becoming more export-driven?

A: We need to create a greater awareness of the importance of exports to the New Brunswick economy. We are the most export-dependent and trade-active province in the country. A huge percentage of our provincial GDP relies on exporting goods and services to other markets. Almost 90 per cent of our goods and services are exported to the U.S., so we’re very dependent on the U.S. for trade. We are diversifying our markets by helping New Brunswick companies sell and market their goods and services to countries beyond North America.

[Tweet “We are the most export-dependent and trade-active province in the country. – Joel Richardson”]

Q: Are there examples of businesses that have done a good job of getting into an emerging market?

A: C-Therm Technologies Ltd., a Fredericton company, is exporting their thermal conductivity devices to over 30 countries including China, South Korea, India and Brazil. In fact, over 90 per cent of C-Therm’s sales are to export destinations. Riverbend Log Homes in Nackawic makes cedar log homes and they’re currently doing some exploratory work. They’ve participated with the Department of Economic Development on a recent trade mission to help them create an understanding and learn more about the China market.

Q: What does an”export-ready”business look like?

A: There are three different categories of exporters or exporting companies – prospective exporters that are new and commercializing their product, in the start-up phase and trying to identify markets; then there’s the small-medium-sized enterprises, that are likely already selling their goods and services into the U.S. and Canada; and finally there’s the major exporters who are very experienced.

Each of these exporters has different challenges but depending on what stage of export readiness a company is at, the challenge is having the expertise within the company to know and validate whether there really are markets available to sell to. Typically export-ready companies will have experienced business development and sales staff, a market entry strategy, a good understanding of shipping and logistics, be financially stable, have the capacity to increase production if they were to receive a large order and have the ability to modify their product rapidly to suit the market.

Q: How does your department support exporters access emerging markets?

A: Companies don’t always have in-house expertise. As a department, we are working with the companies to help augment their staffing, to help them do market validation so that before they invest a lot of money travelling to a market, or advertising within a market, we help them do a diagnostic assessment on both the market, but also on their own company, to understand whether their company has the capability to actually produce the goods and services, market them, sell them and finance them into the market. Export development programs are available on our website at Newbrunswick.ca or by calling us at 1-800-665-1800.

Q: To be a successful exporter I’m just guessing there’s probably a lot more patience required than people would typically expect?

A: Yes, because of issues like language barriers and currency barriers, varying time zones, shipping times and logistics between different markets. It’s a long-term commitment. Once the company validates that there is a market in a new country, they need to stick with the market over the long term and be dedicated and be willing to commit resources and staffing to that market. It’s not likely they’re going to see instant sales. It takes time to build the relationships and build awareness about their company and their products and sometimes many visits back and forth to be able to actually close a deal.

Q: Do you have any examples of the long-term commitment required to enter a new market?

A: Value-added wood producers in the province of British Columbia first identified China and Asia as an opportunity for them to grow their lumber exports many years ago,and they’ve grown their lumber exports approximately 5,000 per cent over the last 15 years. They have been tremendously successful but it’s taken time and so we recognize it’s going to take time for New Brunswick, being a relatively compact province.

Q: Is there one clear message on exporting that business owners and executives in New Brunswick should be aware of?

A: It’s never too early to start the market research and to prepare. New Brunswick businesses are at risk because they are tied so closely to the U.S. Any business selling any good or service should, at some stage (as part of their long-term plan), be looking at global markets.

[Tweet “It’s never too early to start the market research and to prepare. – Joel Richardson”]

Q: If you look at your own professional development in the economic development arena, what’s been the biggest learning for you personally?

A: The most important thing is credibility and developing strong relationships in various countries and within the province with key partners and stakeholders. Maintaining those relationships is the foundation of all good and strong economic development.

Q: So relationships are critical?

A: In countries like China, there’s a certain level of diplomacy and government bureaucracy – you need to have those relationships to help open doors. It’s really important to have trust and credibility as a New Brunswick civil servant with the New Brunswick companies that we’re working with so that they will trust the work we’re doing with them. It works both ways.

Q: To be successful in the global marketplace, what do you feel is really needed in our province?

A: We all need to step up and do more and work just a little bit harder. We need to support our New Brunswick companies and our New Brunswick industries just a little bit more than what we’re currently doing.

[Tweet ” We [the whole province] all need to step up and do more and work just a little bit harder. – Joel Richardson”]

And by”we”I mean the whole province. We need to support our major exporters and our strong employers so that they keep jobs in New Brunswick, so that they can look for new ways to develop and innovate using our natural resources and our talent. New Brunswickers need to rally behind entrepreneurs, support entrepreneurs and become entrepreneurs. We must sell more of what we make because every million dollars from export sales employs six New Brunswickers full-time.

Q: You’re on the front lines – what is your level of optimism when you’re thinking about having a more diverse exporting strategy as a province?

A: This is the time to do it. Economies around the world are looking for new suppliers, looking for innovative places to be partnering and buying goods and services. We can be in a position to respond to those demands from global markets. Quite frankly, given New Brunswick’s financial situation, we don’t have a choice. We need to do this, we need to reach farther and serve New Brunswick companies more rapidly and more cost-effectively and that’s what we’re going to do.

Q: How would you finish this sentence? A leader’s job is to_____.

A: Drive results.

Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter@Dave_Veale . To read past columns and watch videos go to LeadershipUnleashed.ca.

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