SABIT Unites EurasianUS Firms

May 16, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Businesses looking to expand partnerships have a new method locally to work with in the Eurasian market.

The Special American Business Internship Training Program (SABIT) provides U.S. organizations with innovative training programs that reduce market access barriers and minimize commercial risks.

SABIT manages two training programs in West Michigan, the grants program and the group program, that aim to assist corporations in defining the right approach to business.

The grants program offers competitive grants to cover a share of the costs of hosting mid-to-senior level Eurasian managers and scientists for three to six months in hands-on professional training in U.S. business practices.

The group program, by contrast, offers firms an opportunity to network with Eurasian counterparts, establish new contacts and expose their products and services to potential business partners or customers.

“The program is a great way for local businesses to form alliances with foreign companies,” said Nancy Boese, Region 7 director of the Small Business Technology Development Center, which is based at Grand Valley State University.

She said that since its inception in 1992, SABIT has grown in popularity and more than 2,500 people have been trained by more than 1,000 organizations.

In 2002 a record number of nearly 100 applications were submitted, with about $1.5 million in grant funds being awarded to 44 applicants.

SABIT operates in several Eurasian countries that once were part of the USSR, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

For the grants program, any American for-profit or nonprofit organization or institution may apply. It is ideally suited, however, for small and medium sized-businesses that are new-to-market exporters or first-time exporters looking to establish long-term relationships with potential customers, distributors or partners.

Grants also may be used by organizations currently operating in Eurasia to expand relationships with and train existing partners or to establish additional regional representative offices.

Companies, universities and institutions involved in technology transfer and commercialization have used SABIT grants to form cooperative research and development partnerships with the Eurasian scientific community.

Non-governmental organizations have employed SABIT grants to transfer institutional knowledge, technical expertise and skills to Eurasian partners and associates.

Participating U.S. organizations have the choice of either nominating a candidate from their existing Eurasian business contracts or working with SABIT to locate a qualified candidate.

Structured as a reimbursable award, SABIT grants cover round-trip airfare from the trainee’s home country to the U.S. training site, $34 per diem for the trainee and up to $750 per month for housing costs.

SABIT accepts applications once a year based on the availability of funding.

Interested organizations apply after an announcement of fund availability. Fund availability for this year was announced in December and may provide more than $1.5 million in grants for 2003.

Applications are evaluated on a rolling basis by an independent panel made up of experts from academia, government and industry. Proposals for technical grants are also subject to evaluation by a technical review panel and may require licensing or other additional documentation to be awarded funding. Review and processing of completion applications takes three to five months. The 2003 grants are expected to be awarded starting in June.

“Many are very reluctant — many businesses and local business leaders — to accept the idea that a lot of manufacturing business is going to go offshore,” said David Hemmings, president of Pacific Rim Alliance, an Asian Pacific market consultant and service provider.

“The reality is if they don’t find some way of integrating the cheaper labor sources into their operation, they risk being underpriced by other companies who will bring the same product from outside the country and sell direct, thereby undercutting them and completely destroying their business model.

“We must begin to look outside our country for business opportunities,” he added.

Any organization or institution may apply to serve as a group program host. Hosts volunteer to share their knowledge and expertise with delegations through presentations and site visits, which vary in length from a few hours to several days.

Hemmings said the group program is ideally suited — like the grants program — for small to medium firms that are new-to-market exporters or first-time exporters seeking customers, distributors or partners.

The program provides participants with technical training and exposure to U.S. business practices, products and technologies. Each training session begins with an orientation in Washington, D.C., that includes overviews of an industry, the American government culture, financing mechanisms, free market dynamics and business plan development.

The orientation is followed by several weeks of training with organizations involved in the industry. In addition to attending conferences and roundtables, trainees visit a variety of public and private sector companies, institutions and sites.

This format provides the group with both a broad perspective of the industry and detailed information about given companies, products and services.

“The better approach I believe,” Hemmings said, “is for us to realize that the economic climate has changed. These companies — instead of being manufacturers who distribute our products — are starting to become designers and own the intellectual property of what they do and own the distribution chains that they have already established.

“Through this program, area businesses can train other countries’ companies to work with them and can also work in other countries to bring business in and learn how to create opportunities outside of the U.S.”   

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