While people from Rome to London are bragging about the growing economic clout of the European Union (EU), U.S. entrepreneurs are doing some boasting of their own. Why? European unity translates into opportunities for Yanks as well.
"The fact that EU countries are working more closely together means the market is going to get bigger," says Jan Offner, director of business development at the Dallas branch of the Flanders Foreign Investment Office (FFIO), an organization maintained by the Belgian state of Flanders to attract foreign trade. "This is good news for everybody."
Phil Combs, a specialist with the Trade Information Center at the U.S. Department of Commerce, predicts the market will be better as well. "It's making it easier for U.S. entrepreneurs to do business [in Europe]," he says. "They're able to be more efficient because they're dealing with more centralized trade practices and a common currency."
Before you rush off to set up shop in the 15-member EU, however, consider these suggestions:
1. Work with a government affiliate. Two small Florida companies, Tampa-based Romark Laboratories LC and Bionucleonics Inc. in Miami, used FFIO to accomplish different missions. Bionucleonics wanted to find a European university that could provide it with a research grant and a partner, while Romark sought a research site. Locating cash and contacts are what government organizations like FFIO do best.
"FFIO helped introduce us to people in the Flanders region who offered us all kinds of incentives to put a research facility there," says Romark president Marc Ayers, whose company had already been operating two sites in Flanders to manufacture chemical ingredients used in its pharmaceuticals.
Offner says the EU and its member nations commonly provide grants of up to 30 percent of start-up costs, especially if you open a facility in a European Development Zone, areas the EU is trying to bolster.
Bionucleonics president Dr. Stanley Satz, meanwhile, signed up a premier university as a research partner. "We knew the Belgian business climate was wonderful," says Satz, the majority owner in the $10 million company that develops and supplies radio isotopes for the health sciences. "But we were also looking to other countries for a partner. When FFIO turned up the University of Leuven, we chose Belgium."
2. Look for partnerships. "If you don't have a European presence, you need to find a good partner," Offner says. "Ideally, you should offer some kind of technology that gives you leverage to deal with the big guys. You can say, `Look, I have this goodie you can use, and I can benefit from your distribution.' "
3. Consider using a third party to manufacture your product. Licensing the production of your goods to a local company can save you a lot of headaches. "Americans are coming from markets where everything is the same," Offner says, "and they get annoyed when they find the Germans want a bolt screwed on one way, and the Dutch want something else."
4. Contract multilingual people. Europe is obviously still a land of many languages, and you need people who know the lingo. Says Offner, "It's a lot easier for someone with language skills [to learn about] your business than it is for someone from your company to learn the language."
Christopher D. Lancette is a journalist in Atlanta who covers international topics for Hispanic Business and other publications.