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Options abound for U.S. packaging equipment exports

Interpack, the world's largest packaging show held every three years in Dusseldorf, Germany, just finished its run with more than 2,700 exhibitors from more than 60 nations. Show organizers estimate there were more than 160,000 trade visitors. U.S. companies exhibiting at the show generally said they were pleased with overall sales leads and attendance, but they were disappointed with the number of North American visitors at the show.


Minimal representation was evident in the number of U.S. exhibitors (about 100) and U.S.-based consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) attending the show. Of course, there were many more global equipment and material suppliers at Interpack that have U.S. operations.


It struck me that many U.S. packaging OEMs are not taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the export market, especially at a time when exporting is advantageous to U.S. manufacturers. In 2010, total exports of U.S. manufactured goods increased 20.8 percent, from $1.07 trillion in 2009 to $1.29 trillion.


The world is emerging from one of its deepest recessions in decades. There is pent-up demand among packaging companies eager to streamline their operations through automation, especially in developing countries. U.S. technology is respected, and the dollar's current weakness makes U.S. equipment more cost competitive. Many international CPGs also are trying to standardize their packaging operations by limiting the number of vendors and buying machinery that helps them compete in all their markets.


Yet relatively few U.S. packaging companies seem to be taking full advantage of the opportunities staring them in the face. According to government and market research organizations' figures, sales by U.S. companies' accounted for only about an 11 percent share of the global packaging machinery market in 2009.


Senior representatives of PMMI say they have established several programs and conferences to help the group's members establish export operations. While many PMMI members have expressed interest, the number of companies pursuing overseas sales is not as large as it could, or perhaps should, be.

Many U.S. companies offer a number of reasons why they aren't actively exporting. Some say they have all the business they can handle in North America. Others are reluctant to establish foreign offices or say they can't find reliable and knowledgeable distributors. Some say they are concerned about intellectual property rights. Others express concern about the cultural differences and time required to get to know potential customers.

These all are legitimate concerns. However, U.S. businesses should never let these issues wall them off from opportunities in a world that is developing rapidly.

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