By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asia Weekly

From left to right: Gabriel Esparza, Michael Fong, Sam Cho, Isabelle De Wulf and Josh Davis. (Credit: Port of Seattle)

Walking around the room and chatting with reporters in Korean and English, Seattle Port Commissioner Sam Cho greeted everyone personally. Still using both languages, he then launched a program to help local businesses increase their exports to South Korea. Finally, he joked, “I realize that my job as Harbor Commissioner is to create jobs, not take them away. And with that he brought in an interpreter.

Such spontaneity seemed to be the hallmark of the innovative program he presented.

Cho, who is the first colored harbor commissioner, has experience as an exporter as well as navigating federal bureaucracy.

As bird flu ravaged Asia, he contacted Wilcox Farms in Washington and used his connections to expedite shipping, since then shipping 2.5 million pounds of vacuum-packed eggs in refrigerated containers to Korea. from South.

Speaking of the current initiative, he said: “A program like this would have been useful when I was exporting.”

The program, which is supported by federal and state governments as well as private industry, will make capital and opportunity available to Black, Indigenous and Color (BIPOC) small and medium-sized businesses as well as “create a community”. said Cho.

It mainly targets Korean American companies. Some are already exporting to Korea, while others might be interested in the opportunity to do so.

“The program is aimed at small business owners or entrepreneurs, primarily from the Korean American community, who are already exporting to Korea or wish to sell in the Korean market,” said a US Small press release last week. Business Administration (SBA). .

“They understand the language, they understand the culture, and they understand how to do business in their home country,” said Gabriel Esparza, associate administrator of the SBA’s Office of International Trade, which supports the program.

Moreover, the number of people with ties to Korea indicates that the region is ripe for embarking on such a program.

The greater Seattle area is home to more than 40,000 Korean-born residents and more than 79,000 who identify as Korean, according to Greater Seattle Partners, one of the groups supporting the company.

Existing trade is another sign that there is room for growth.

Already, more than 30 Korean companies employ more than 450 people in the greater Seattle area. And companies like Amazon, Costco, Microsoft and Starbucks have collectively invested more than $1 billion in South Korea, generating more than 1,600 jobs there.

This is not a recent development either.

Seattle Port Commissioner Sam Cho speaking to reporters ahead of the conference. (Photo by Mahlon Meyer)

Over the past 10 years, South Korea has consistently been among the top three trading partners in the region.

And the growth in trade continues.

In 2021 alone, South Korea exported more than $4.5 billion to the greater Seattle area, mostly automotive and industrial products. For its part, this region exported more than $2 billion in 2021 to South Korea, mainly agricultural, aerospace and industrial machinery goods.

Total trade reached nearly $80 billion between 2011 and 2022.

“This is a solid foundation for small and medium-sized businesses to export to South Korea,” said Josh Davis, vice president of global trade and investment, Greater Seattle Partners.

Building on these trends, the federal government, through the SBA, has pledged to provide technical assistance, financing, and other support to help the company.

Another reason the program targets small and medium-sized businesses: 97% of all exporters in the United States are small businesses.

The Washington State Department of Commerce, Port of Seattle, and Coupang, one of Korea’s leading e-commerce companies, also provide resources. This includes export assistance involving e-commerce.

A conference on September 8 and 9 will provide information on opportunities in the South Korean market and the resources available to pursue international sales. Successful small businesses will share their export experiences. The conference will also give exporters or those wishing to export the chance to interact with government and industry officials, as well as networking opportunities with other attendees.

Lying like a giant ship at dock and soaked in the salt air blowing in from the Puget Sound, the Port of Seattle will open its doors to the region’s multitude of exporters and potential exporters, many of whom already use its facilities.

Washington state is home to more than 120,000 small businesses owned by people of color, said Michael Fong, former deputy senior mayor of Seattle, now regional administrator for the Pacific Northwest region for the SBA. Of these, half belong to Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

The region’s infrastructure also supports increased growth.

Three deep-water ports are a crucial ally for exporters. About 80% of all exports from this region to South Korea are delivered by sea.

And for those who need to fly, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the closest west coast gateway to Asia.

As an indication, exports from the region increased by more than 22% compared to the same period last year.

Isabelle DeWulf, executive director of small business export assistance for the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, pledged funding “to help small businesses with e-commerce “.

Titled “Small Business Growth and Resilience Through Export Opportunities in U.S.-Korea Trade,” the event will kick off with a reception on September 7 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. sponsored by Coupang.

“A fantastic in-person networking opportunity for entrepreneurs and small business owners interested in the Korean market,” the joint press release reads.

The reception will also include “a Chuseok-themed light dinner.” Chuseok is the harvest moon celebration in South Korea.

The reception will be held at Pier 69, 2711 Alaskan Way.

Mahlon can be reached at [email protected]asianweekly.com.