The first of four U.S. "one-stop shops for exports" opened at Baltimore's World Trade Center yesterday with federal and state officials hailing it as an example of reinventing government to help small and medium-size businesses cut through red tape.
The U.S. Export Assistance Center is an outgrowth of legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., calling for a more streamlined and effective government program to promote exporting.
Until now, how-to information about exporting was provided by a patchwork of 19 federal agencies -- from the Commerce Department to the Small Business Administration -- that often overlapped and sometimes competed.
A 1991 report by the General Accounting Office questioned whether the $27 billion a year spent on export financing and promotion was being channeled effectively.
In addition to Baltimore, pilot offices will be opened this month in Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. The 10-member staff here will help determine a company's export potential, find new markets and plan strategies to enter those markets.
The office here is expected to boost the state's growing export business. In 1992, the value of Maryland exports rose 22 percent, outpacing the 6 percent increase nationwide.
During the first nine months of 1993, the state exported $3.7 billion worth of goods and services, representing a 6.1 percent increase over the same period in 1992, and putting Maryland on a track to exceed the 1992 total of $4.9 billion.
Government officials said yesterday that every $1 billion increase in exports means 20,000 new jobs.
As a result, they said, government and private officials need to compete more aggressively in the global marketplace.
"When American companies are competing, we need to tell them to get in there and fistfight," Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer told more than 150 people attending yesterday's opening ceremonies. "In international trade, you've got to be rough."
Historically, however, the U.S. government has taken a hands-off approach to efforts by American companies to secure contracts abroad.
"We have wasted several decades in a debate about the role of government in foreign trade," Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown said yesterday. "That's why competitors around the world are doing better than they should be and we're not doing as well."
With the national economy in the doldrums, the U.S. government has been trying to boost exports and narrow the trade deficit by becoming more actively involved, Mr. Brown said.