Export Council adds eight new members

August 22, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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The Michigan District Export Council – West expanded recently with the appointment of eight new members, including representatives from Cascade Engineering, Mercer and Comerica Bank.

The additions were a part of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s appointment of 751 international business professionals to the 60 District Export Councils located throughout the United States, part of the Administration’s National Export Initiative to double exports over the next five years.

The new members of MDEC — West from the Grand Rapids area include Scott Hibbard, vice president of International Trade and Finance at Comerica Bank in Grand Rapids; Greg Rhodes, a principal at Mercer, a business consulting service; Lance Tennant, senior vice president of business development at Cascade Engineering; and H. James Williams, dean of Seidman College of Business at GVSU.

Other new members are Chuck Bird, director of international sales, Neogen Corp., Lansing; Ned Haylett, vice president of sales and marketing, Burr Oak Tool Inc., Sturgis; Jean Schtokal, an attorney at Foster Swift, Lansing; and Zack Quraeshi, professor of marketing and international business and director of the Global Business Center, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo.

MDEC – West now has 26 members, with experience in international marketing, banking, accounting, logistics and legal services. DEC members work with the Department of Commerce’s Export Assistance Center in Grand Rapids, directly consulting with businesses to increase their exporting activities and assist when international problems and issues arise.

Although Cascade Engineering is a new presence on the MDEC — West, like many other manufacturers in the Grand Rapids area, it has already had years of experience in overseas business.

“We’ve had at least an unofficial relationship with Tom Maguire’s office for a number of years,” said Tennant, who has been in his current position since 2007. He started with Cascade Engineering in 1987. Maguire is director of the Grand Rapids office of the U.S. Department of Commerce/International Trade Administration and U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Cascade Engineering’s overseas business began in earnest in 1992, when the company began injection molding of auto parts near Budapest, Hungary, in a partnership with a company from Hungary and one from Germany. Since 1994, that business has been wholly owned by Cascade Engineering. That division, known as CE Europe, produces parts for auto plants throughout Europe. Some parts have also gone to China, said Tennant, and a “very limited” amount of parts have been shipped to the U.S.

Tennant noted that since the European Union was formed, it has been much easier to ship materials and products across the borders there.

Another international joint venture is Decade Products, which involves Cascade Engineering and Dolav Plastic Products of Israel. Located in Grand Rapids at the Cascade Engineering facilities, Decade manufactures bulk shipping and storage containers for industrial, agricultural and food processing applications worldwide. The lightweight reusable containers offer a longer lifespan than traditional containers and virtually no maintenance. Last year, according to Tennant, Decade launched a 100 percent recycled plastic pallet.

Cascade Engineering has had a number of business arrangements with Asian companies, too. One of the first was a joint venture with a Japanese company called Starlite Industries, which had been looking for a North American source to help it supply the Michigan operations of Starlite’s No. 1 customer: Mazda.

Starlite, founded in 1936 as a molder of plastic parts, had contracts to supply the Mazda/Ford joint venture started in Flat Rock in 1987. Tennant said the joint venture with Starlite is called StarCade, although it is not functioning at the current time.

Cascade Engineering is a supplier to Denso Corp., which is Japan’s largest car parts maker and among the largest in the world, according to Reuters. Denso, which has a major production facility in Battle Creek, operates in 33 countries and had global consolidated sales of $32 billion in the last fiscal year.

Tennant said Cascade Engineering has also done a small amount of production in the past for office furniture manufacturers in Europe.

A few years ago, Cascade Engineering began manufacturing the HydrAid BioSand Water Filter for International Aid, a Spring Lake nonprofit organization. The original water filters were designed for third-world communities where unsafe drinking water is a major threat to health, but there was a technical problem: They were made out of cement. The plastic unit made by Cascade Engineering was a breakthrough in reducing the shipping cost. At the end of 2009, Cascade Engineering and the Windquest Group in Grand Rapids formed a new joint venture, TripleQuest, to promote the HydrAid filter and develop distribution opportunities around the world. TripleQuest sent many of those filters to Haiti only two weeks after the devastating earthquake there in the spring.

Cascade Engineering and Windquest are “working together to implement a new vision for international development that involves cultivating sustainable entrepreneurship in the developing world and the potential for bringing additional, life-changing products to this market,” said Tennant. “To that end, the MDEC resources we are working with may prove very helpful as interest and exporting activity increases.”

Tennant said membership on the MDEC — West offers valuable connections to a diverse network of manufacturers and distributors of both industrial and consumer products, companies that are active in markets around the world.

“You can benefit from their experiences,” he said. The group includes individuals with experience in legal matters related to global trade, which can be extremely helpful when putting together international trade agreements.

“It would be very helpful for anyone thinking (exporting) might be a good idea but not really knowing how to go about it,” said Tennant.

“It’s a great group of folks,” he added. “Tom Maguire is an absolutely dynamic and charismatic leader with great career experience, and he has the wonderful ability to make the most out of the meetings.”

Cascade Engineering had sales of $209 million in fiscal 2009. The company forecasts sales of $220 million this year.

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