When Scott Blacklin began volunteering his time and expertise to help SMEs navigate the sometimes choppy waters of global trade, it was due to a simple but powerful philosophy: We all benefit when we help each other. And he’s not talking just about the tangible benefits, but also “the joy of the fellowship that you have in a shared enterprise.”
After forty years working in international trade—in government, as an entrepreneur, and with some of the world’s largest corporations—Scott Blacklin has a lifetime’s worth of global trade insights and intelligence to share.
As chairman of the Virginia-Washington, D.C. District Export Council (DEC), Blacklin is one of several volunteer experts who help small to medium sized firms in the region make the right connections—and learn to make the most of them.
“SMEs make such an impact in the national tapestry,” says Blacklin, “and there has not been enough focus on what their needs are compared to the needs of large corporations.” The DEC is working to change that imbalance. The Virginia-Washington, DC group is just one of sixty regional DECs, spread around the country and anchored in the US Department of Commerce. Their mission is to reach out to members of SME community who are, or would like to become, involved in global trade. Each regional DEC has a Department of Commerce representative as executive secretary.
“We coordinate with each other but also with the local chambers of commerce, county authorities, state authorities, and the regional U.S. Export Assistance Centers,” he says. “I like to think of us as the mortar that adheres the larger bricks together.”
According to Blacklin, the available resources and intelligence are extensive, and offerings can be tailored to an SME’s specific needs.
“I get called quite often by the U.S. Export Assistance Center here in Northern Virginia, asking for a DEC member to brief them on issues that range from freight forwarding to legal compliance to banking or development funding questions, and more.”
By mentoring SMEs one-on-one, volunteers with the group can help a small US company move forward confidently, whether selling to a customer in Ghana or Germany or any of hundreds of international locales.
“We also do a lot of state and local and federal government advocacy to argue for policies that benefit the small business community.”
The DEC also often introduces SMEs to opportunities that one might assume were only available to the “big guys.”
“There are working capital programs and export insurance programs offered by the EXIM Bank that are specifically tailored for small business,” he says. “The EXIM Bank can also offer special types of financing if you are facing subsidized foreign competition.”
Blacklin says that his group tries to be an SME’s one stop shop for international trade information within the community.
“An advantage for us in this particular area is that we pay close attention to what’s happening at the embassies. There are almost 180 different embassies in the region, giving local SMEs a leg up in trade.
“Washington offers other advantages to the SME community. Almost every country where American companies do business has these interests addressed by bilateral business councils, such as the U.S.-China Business Council, the Brazil-U.S. Business Council, etc. There are also a range of bilateral business councils managed under the umbrella of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with which our DEC cooperates closely. This affords the SME low-cost access to specialized information and market research, and moreover, often brings customers to Washington— all before they get on an airplane,” says Blacklin.
With a little help from the DEC, an SME can make the most efficient use of this regional advantage. "We can tell you who is coming to Washington that you may want to see,” he says. “So, instead of going to Egypt, for example, and trying to sell your technology or service solution to the Egyptians, you'll have a chance to meet the Minister of Education who's visiting here."
An issue that the DEC is trying to help at least one SME deal with right now involves a question that many around the country are asking: what does it take to thrive in a time of trade volatility?
“Uncertainty is the enemy of business,” says Blacklin. “The more you can understand what is going to happen, the greater the risk you can take. And the further you can throw out your net, the greater your reward.”
Some of the most unsettling changes currently facing companies of all sizes involve trade wars and the tariffs that come with them. About these, Blacklin expressed concern.
“Barriers obscure, and barriers inhibit. And you look around at all of the things that the Americans have built since 1945—in concert with others, but we've been the driver in this—I think we have to cherish the methods, the processes, and the structures which our grandfathers and grandmothers built before.”
For more information about the Virginia-Washington, D.C. District Export Council, please visit:
For information about District Export Councils in other regions, please see:
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