“Back to school” on exporting – Ohio State expands award-winning model

The walls at Ohio State’s Office of Global Business are covered with maps of Columbus, Ohio’s connections to international markets through companies, universities, and investment. Now they are making room for a new addition: a large framed certificate from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In May, the Fisher College of Business received the prestigious President’s “E” Services Award for 2017 – the only university recognized for innovative efforts to help firms expand global trade and exports.

This recognition is not surprising. In our review of promising practices from the Global Cities Initiative (GCI) last year, we highlighted the “Ohio Export Internship Program” as one example of how universities can make practical contributions to metro economic development and global strategies.

But Ohio State has moved beyond only training and placing business students in one-semester internships to help companies export. The E Award came for creating a more comprehensive “Global Trade Network” program, offering a broad array of services and educational opportunities for both students and firms.


We connected with the Global Business program director, Joyce Steffan, for the update:

Remind us of where you started with the Ohio Export Internship Program (OEIP)?

About five years ago, we recognized the increasing importance of global business engagement for our students and local companies, and there was a gap to be filled. Small and mid-size firms needed intensive internal help thinking proactively about export opportunities. Our students needed experience dealing with international business issues. So we put students through an intense curriculum on global entrepreneurship and exporting, then matched them with companies. The interns do work like researching market opportunities, developing export strategies and processes, identifying new distributors and customers, and often contributing foreign language skills. We’ve placed nearly 150 students in 100 firms, and estimate $25.5 million in export sales impact.

What motivated transitioning OEIP into a broader “Global Trade Network” program?

After success with OEIP, we saw other needs that the university could meet to drive global competitiveness across Ohio. Locally, Columbus 2020 is doing a great job as our regional economic development lead on executing the new global trade and investment plan created through GCI. But many different public, private, and civic partners must contribute time and talent to achieve those goals. We need to create a workforce with the right global skillsets. We need to make more export resources easily accessible to Ohio companies. We need to help small and mid-size firms connect to share best practices. Ohio State and the Fisher College have resources and expertise to help make this happen.

What does establishing the Global Trade Network mean practically? How does it differ from OEIP?

First, we realized that we could leverage more from the OEIP platform to both help companies expand exports and develop workers with the skills to manage global transactions. So we created a new Global Trade Consulting Group with faculty advisors and OEIP alumni students to continue applying their experience on higher-level global trade strategy projects. For example, a team recently finished a year-long project with a city economic development division to prioritize international market opportunities relative to local industry strengths.


Second, we called this a Network because it should be a hub for other activities and partners. It links state agencies, regional economic development entities, other universities, and individual business leaders who are focused on global trade. For example, we co-host the Ohio SBDC Export Assistance Network, and work with U.S. Commercial Service. Those are front-line advisors to firms, and we provide research and other support to strengthen their impact.


We started an annual Global Summit with several partners last year, which explored commercial opportunities in the Americas. Our next summit will focus on globally-prepared workforce issues. We also initiated a Global Trade Speaker Series and host Exporting Seminars, using our resources to bring in subject-matter experts for continued learning by the business community. These are valuable contributions, given the shifting landscape of trade policy and practice.

Based on that list of partners, there are plenty of organizations working on export issues. With all these other resources, how is the university’s Global Trade Network providing distinctive value?

This is the heart of Ohio State’s modern land-grant mission. Globalization, exporting, and economic competitiveness are huge challenges for firms and workers in Ohio and throughout the country. Universities can and must play a role connecting the creativity, skills, and thought leadership of faculty and students to help meet society’s pressing needs.


That is why I can’t overstate the importance of our federally-funded Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). CIBER recognizes the value of linking university assets with business needs to achieve national goals, with 17 designees across the country. The annual grant enables a significant portion of our Global Trade Network activity.


We help other universities contribute to export success through CIBER, including outside Ohio. North Carolina doesn’t have its own CIBER designee, so we stepped in to work on the TRIAD Regional Export Initiative and focused on how seven area colleges can support exporting companies, particularly providing resources to more rural parts of the region. So our experience produces real national benefits.

Your rural mention is interesting, given Brookings analysis that smaller city-regions are many of the most export-reliant. And many GCI strategies involve reaching beyond urban centers to more rural parts of the metro areas. What’s your view on how universities help?

Many people simply don’t know the importance of exports to their economy or see that globalization also offers opportunities. At a minimum, we need to increase awareness.


We are being creative in our rural outreach. We just partnered with Battelle for Kids on a new “Entrepreneur Export Competition” program for high school students from rural Appalachia in Southeast Ohio, introducing them to the basics of global business. We used CIBER funding. Local high school teams wrote export marketing plans with Ohio State mentors, and nine were selected for a final “Shark Tank” pitch competition on campus. We want to double that number next year.


This is a great role for a university, whether in rural or urban areas – to educate entrepreneurs about competing internationally and inspire the next generation of globally-aware young business leaders.

The National Center for the Middle Market, a division of The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, is a member of the Metropolitan Council, a network of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders who act as financial and intellectual partners of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. Brookings recognizes that the value it provides is in its absolute commitment to quality, independence and impact, and makes all final determinations on its own scholarly activities, including the research agenda and products.