Ahmed Ramadan stands as the link between Middle Eastern businesses and the American products they need to build testing labs and facilities.
His Ewest International Inc. exports manufacturing equipment and materials -- to Egypt primarily -- and has been growing by 35 percent annually since it was founded in 1994.
This year, he was named Exporter of the Year by the Baltimore office of the Small Business Administration. Ramadan also was among 10 entrepreneurs from throughout the state honored Friday at the Maryland Small Business Awards, and the only Howard County business represented at the ceremony.
"Exporting is one of our major pushes as a government agency because we are always trying to balance the trade," said Allan A. Stephenson, district director of the Baltimore Small Business Administration office.
"Small businesses represent, in terms of dollars, a small portion of the exporting we do" as a nation, he said. "We want to increase smaller firms to increase their sales and their markets."
The SBA has a program to help small businesses over one of the larger hurdles in exporting: obtaining access to capital.
Ramadan has participated in the program, and it has helped his company to grow, according to Deborah Conrad, senior international credit officer and regional manager for the SBA.
"He's increased his exports and he runs a solid company," Conrad said. "Ewest started as an export management company and moved to an export trading company."
Ramadan has been selling U.S. goods to Middle Eastern companies since 1982, when he helped a business contact from his native Cairo obtain equipment. He started Ewest after he began representing several companies.
The Ellicott City company has grown steadily in the past eight years, moving beyond sales alone.
With a work force of more than 60 salespeople, technicians and engineers overseas, the company also installs and maintains the equipment it sells anywhere in the world. Ramadan periodically brings its technicians to the United States for training on new equipment.
Even now, when war is creating tension in the Middle East and the U.S. economy remains shaky, Ewest will see growth this year, Ramadan said. But because his contracts are secured several months in advance, he is concerned that next year might not prove as successful.
To help fight a slowdown, Ramadan said, the company is increasing its sales force overseas now, with hopes of doubling staff and revenues in two years.
"I'm planning to have about 30" salespeople when he travels to Egypt this month, he said. Now the company has about 10.
"Every manufacturer needs help [on] how to get sales overseas," he said.
Ewest, with a staff of four in the United States, is the exclusive representative in the Middle East for 10 American manufacturers, and has more than 50 client companies throughout the Middle East.
The company specializes in selling lab equipment, testing equipment and materials primarily to Egypt.
Clients typically are corporations or contractors with a foreign government on a mission to build a laboratory.
Ewest works with the buyer in each step of the process, providing consultations for design, schematics and selection of merchandise, then installing and servicing the items. The company fulfills about 15 contracts annually, Ramadan said.
This year, he said, he expects the company to handle $2.5 million in sales contracts.
Ramadan added that it is important to his clients that his company performs maintenance on the multiton, several thousand-dollar equipment they buy through him.
"Here, if you have equipment, [and] you have a problem, even if it gets really bad, you return it," he said. "But how do you return five-ton equipment [overseas]?"
For the companies Ewest represents, Ramadan's services mean a great deal.
"A big hunk of the market is international," said Douglas Garven, vice president of Standards Testing Lab Inc., which makes test labs for wheels and tires. Garven said international sales accounted for half or more of company sales last year.
Ewest's service of equipment overseas is a plus, Garven said.
"That helps us out immensely because our people don't like to travel, especially overseas," he said.