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Ohio Uses College Interns To Boost Exports


Each year, Ohio companies export billions of dollars in manufactured goods, cars, trucks, electrical machinery, soap, perfumes, paper and plastic. But, state officials want to export more. They're turning to college interns to help small and medium sized businesses get in the export game. AirWaves incorporated in Lewis Center is a 32-year-old company that helps make fancy jerseys with heat printed transfers.

"It's a graphic image that's then put onto a tee-shirt or sweatshirt."

Chief Operating Officer Michael Leaventon says most of his customers are in the States, but 15 percent of AirWaves sales come from exports to Europe, the Persian Gulf and other countries. His goal is to boost exports to 25 percent of his sales. So this summer, as part of the Ohio Export Internship Program he hired OSU finance student Bea Gutierrez. The state picked up half her salary. Her sole job is to identify potential export markets for AirWaves. "No one here is really focused on just exports because everyone has a lot of different things to do in different departments. So, I think hiring someone that would focus solely on exports was a good idea. It's very targeted growth," says Gutierrez. The company employs 65 workers in a light industrial park. The employees design and manufacture logos and images that can be transferred to apparel with use of large irons. Think iron-on patch, industrial size. "So it's just a sheet of paper and then we package it in stacks of maybe 500 sheets each. And then that is what we send out to people overseas," says Gutierrez. During a walk through of the factory floor, Gutierrez explains how the market for such custom printed apparel is changing.

"Traditionally, our biggest markets used to be the resort markets. So we would do all those Florida, California tee-shirts. But, recently we've been doing a lot more active wear and a lot more farm and fleet companies," says Gutierrez.

During her twelve-week internship Gutierrez identified potential new customers for AirWaves in Canada and Mexico. Leaventon says Gutierrez's work prompted him to re-evaluate unserved markets. "So it's helped us focus on different markets and different customers and trying to find more customers along the lines of the ones we are making the most profit off of," says Leaventon. Leaventon adds his company recently hired one new full time worker to do customer service and sales in the international markets.

"You know hopefully that will lead to more employment for folks in the factory too."

The Ohio Development Services Agency hopes more exports will result in more jobs and more economic activity in Ohio. This year, 19 Ohio college graduate students were employed as paid export interns. The agency identified $85,000 in exports directly linked to the program. It's a small beginning compared to $48 billion in total Ohio exports last year. But, state officials say they want to double the number export internships next year.