Inspiring others by example

GLENDALE — With the value of the U.S. dollar falling against the net worth of foreign currencies, Tony Bright is looking to capitalize on an increasingly competitive global market.

Bright, chief executive of BMA Auto Parts Inc., a family owned business in Glendale that specializes in foreign auto parts, is looking to increase the scope of his business to overseas markets. But the maze of bureaucracy and worldwide hurdles that stand in his way have limited the extent to which Bright can fully engage the export side of his business.

Enter the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board, which spearheaded Wednesday’s “Exporting Workshop” — a free seminar for business representatives in the region.

During the seminar, which took place in the Verdugo Jobs Center, a series of economic development leaders, local entrepreneurs and commerce spokespersons detailed how, where and why to expand sales globally, despite persistent economic challenges on the national and international business front.

Attendees first heard from Theresa Powell, vice president of business development at Wet Design Inc., a Sun Valley-based firm specializing in unique water fountain design and manufacturing.

Wet Design has grown from a local outfit, designing and building domestic water fountains, to a globe-trotting success working to develop projects in the Middle East, Asia and South America.

“It’s about growing globally, and not just striving, but thriving,” Powell said.

Thriving is what Wet Design has done, she said, by learning to navigate a slew of cultural, religious and political minefields businesses must be cognizant of when working overseas.

Powell relayed a story of working during a time of great political instability in Caracas, Venezuela; of building relationships with Middle Eastern sheiks while stepping lightly around strict religious customs; and of delays in international ports.

“Patience is a virtue,” she said.

If Powell gave attendees a general glimpse of the success businesses can attain from tapping into foreign markets, others offered a more specific approach for exporting goods and services overseas.

Jim MacLellan, director of trade services at the Port of Los Angeles, touched on the boon in exports in the region during the last two years; Rachid Sayouty, the director of commercial services for the Commerce Department, offered tips on finding customers in foreign markets; Tim Murphy, first vice president of the international banking division at Comerica Bank, advised attendees on trade financing; and Guy Fox, president and chief executive of Guy Fox and Associates Inc., spoke of ways to ship goods to other countries.

While the seminar was organized by the Verdugo Workforce, a slew of other business development groups in Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles helped cull speakers and ensure the morning session ran smoothly, said Ken Hitts, economic development manager for the city of Glendale and a member of the Verdugo Workforce board.

“We want to make sure the manufacturing base is aware of the resources available,” he said. “When you create exporting opportunities, it keeps jobs here.”

Hitts expects Wednesday’s seminar on working internationally to broaden into a wider series on the advantages for local businesses, just as last year’s four-part seminar on market conditions helped stores survive the harsh economic climate.

Employment opportunities were also on the minds of dozens in the job center outside of the conference room.

As business leaders listened to speakers extol the virtues of international trade, residents logged on to state and county job websites in an effort to find work.

The center serves up to 300 clients each week, with up to 40% coming from the hard-hit financial sector, manager Judith Sernas said.

“The volume has increased,” she said. “For them ... it’s a big change.”

As the worsening state of the economy has driven some in the region to seek employment in different job sectors, others hoped Wednesday’s seminar would help their business thrive on the foreign market.

“It was very fascinating,” Bright said. “I now have to focus my efforts to see where we can invest.”

 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at

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