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U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Export-Import Bank president Fred Hochberg, and Congressman Bill Owens in Ogdensburg. Photo: Zach Hirsch
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Export-Import Bank president Fred Hochberg, and Congressman Bill Owens in Ogdensburg. Photo: Zach Hirsch

Exporting North Country goods with fewer headaches

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Each year, billions of dollars in material goods flow between New York and Canada. On the North Country side of the border, more and more businesses are realizing they could make good money when they export their products.

For smaller businesses, though, dealing with foreign customers and distributers can be complicated and expensive.

But at a roundtable discussion in Ogdensburg on Friday, officials told North Country business owners they can make it easier to jump into the game of international trade.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

Roxaina Hurlburt co-owns Mercer’s Dairy in Boonville. Her company churns out the usual ice cream flavors – chocolate, vanilla, mint chip. But some of her products come with an extra kick: Hurlbert also sells wine-infused ice cream, 5% alcohol by volume.

When Hurlburt started mixing wine and dairy in 2007, it was a huge hit. She now has customers in 10 states and 15 countries, including China, Japan, and the Netherlands. 

Although she’s doing well, Hurlburt says she’s starting to hit a brick wall. She knows dessert eaters abroad will pay top dollar for her ice cream, but, it’s tricky getting the product to them.

“The biggest issue we have is packaging. They want very small. They want Dixie cup size. Our pint is too big for China,” Hurlburt says.  

She finds there are several factors that prevent her from exporting more of her popular dessert. She’s worried about insurance. It’s not always easy to find reliable distributers overseas.

And another huge obstacle: Hurlbert can’t afford to ship her alcoholic ice cream unless she gets the money upfront. She has to play it safe, and that slows down business a lot.

But officials say there’s a solution. It’s the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an independent federal agency that assumes the risk for the company, with insurance and loans.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the agency during the Great Depression. Since then, the Bank has been helping companies, big and small, in all kinds of industries, such as construction, agriculture, oil and gas.  

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is one of five U.S. Senators on President Obama’s Export Council. She says this Bank could save Hurlbert a lot of headaches.

“If they could ship, and then be paid within the next 30 or 60 days, that will mean their buyers will buy more,” Gillibrand says. “And so what Export-Import can do is provide the insurance she needs to know she’s covered no matter what.”

Fred Hochberg is the president of the Bank. He says his agency is trying to help companies access untapped, foreign markets without thinking twice.

“I want you not to worry about whether you’re going to get paid by an overseas customer. What you want to worry about is making great products, at good prices, delivering on time, being innovative, building a business,” Hochberg says. “We can make it safer to ship goods and sell products to Costa Rica or Singapore, than selling it to Connecticut.”

Once individual companies are profiting, Hochberg says, the overall economy will start to do better, too.

The Export-Import Bank works with businesses all over the U.S., but only a tiny fraction of them are in the North Country.

Congressman Bill Owens worries that the region is missing out.  

“It was very clear to me that a lot of people around the room today were not aware of the services that Export-Import Bank offers,” Owens says. “One of the providers for insurance for the Export-Import Bank is in Syracuse. My sense is no one knows that.”

Congressman Owens says there’s a lot at stake here. He has long argued that North Country exports could give the region’s economy a much needed boost. But if businesses don’t know this agency will support them, he says, they won’t export, so, no boost.

Roxaina Hulburt of Mercer’s Dairy says she didn’t realize she could get the kind of help that Export-Import is offering. Now, she’s considering it. 

“It would open a whole new venue for us, if we could afford to start the Dixie cup portion,” she says.  

Hochberg says he’s only offering a little financial backup. He hopes more North Country businesses like Mercer’s will take him up on it.

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