The old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” applies to smaller U.S. firms that might not know how to take advantage of opportunities to do business outside of the country. Atlanta’s Metro Export Plan (MEP) helps small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) identify opportunities for exporting in the Atlanta region, and two representatives from Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce shared their expertise with ISM2015 attendees in the Tuesday morning session, “How to Grow Small & Medium Companies Through Exports.”

Cathy A. Martin, C.P.M., vice president, Economic Development at Metro Atlanta Chamber and Ricardo Hubler, senior director, Global Business Development at Metro Atlanta Chamber shared facts about exporting (such as 95 percent of the world’s consumers are located outside the U.S., and 79 percent of economic growth will occur outside the US between 2013-18; and every US$1 billion exported equals 5,600 jobs) with the audience. It’s a prime opportunity ground that’s only going to get better over time.

So, why are SMEs not stretching into exports? Hubler said some factors are that companies still focus heavily on U.S. markets, thinking there is a perceived lack of demand for their products outside the country. Many companies don’t know where to start, and think it’s too complex to tackle. Of course, the two main reasons are a lack of skilled talent and/or money to branch out. SMEs may need help navigating the export trade finance waters.

However, SMEs can connect with larger companies who do have experience in exporting. After all, international corporations with existing business overseas can offer market knowledge, international relationships and networks to tap into. They can share ideas and serve as mentors. One place for an SME to start is reaching out to the local chamber of commerce. Also, the Global Cities Initiative through Brookings and JPMorgan Chase and Co. is active in 28 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

And Hubler says large companies also benefit from helping SMEs in this way. “It’s about building a stronger community and more a diverse, capable supplier base.”