International trade is the silver bullet for our firms

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With International trade worth an estimated £10bn to the Leeds City Region economy, exporting is clearly important to our future, but it is hard to pin it down to just one industry.

A large and diverse city region, we have expertise and strengths in a number of fields. We’ve got farmers in Wakefield exporting Yorkshire Rhubarb to Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and beyond; creative agencies in Leeds and York doing major business for global brands such as Nike and PlayStation. There’s even a company in Barnsley exporting sushi to Japan – you couldn’t make it up!

Radio Design, the company I established in 2007 to manufacture filter technology to enable network sharing by major telecom companies, was the first of its kind in the world. Today, Radio Design employs over 265 people globally and exports products to Eastern and Western Europe, USA, India and further afield, working with telecommunication giants such as O2, Orange & EE. Our international business has grown from 27 per cent to over 60 per cent in the last four years and is critical to our future success.

It’s because I’ve seen the benefits of international trade first hand that after three years working with colleagues on the LEP’s Business Innovation and Growth panel, I joined the LEP board as the chief adviser on international trade. With experience in enterprise, business innovation, SME competitiveness and manufacturing, my aim is to share my experience and support SMEs in the region branch out into international markets.

Leeds City Region LEP is taking international trade very seriously. Our We are International campaign aims to transform the current £1bn trade deficit into a £1.6bn surplus by 2018. It is an ambitious target but one that the LEP and partners such as UKTI, the Chambers and Enterprise Europe Yorkshire will work hard to achieve.

We were the only LEP in the country to include international trade in our 2012 City Deal and it plays prominently in our bid to government for our Local Growth Deal, submitted yesterday. Yorkshire and Humber (Leeds City Region is by far the biggest economy within this) is the only northern region to show export growth in 2013.

The LEP believes international trade is the silver bullet – along with innovation– that’s going to make a real difference to our economy. Quite simply, in 21st century business you have to think internationally to succeed.

Next week is UKTI Export Week. This is a government initiative designed to the show opportunities in international markets. The LEP is working on the principle that the only way to encourage companies to export – and two thirds do not have exporting as part of their business strategy – is to lead by example.

So we’ve set up an Export Network led by ambassadors – business people with a significant track record in exporting and who are prepared to share their experiences.

The Export Network is about connecting potential exporters in Leeds City Region both with the support available from bodies such as UKTI, the Chambers and other organisations, and critically with businesspeople who have direct experience of exporting and can pass on what they have learned to other businesses. The campaign is already showing results. Neil Heslop, export sales executive at Bradford-based steel stockholder, Dent Steel, attended an Export Network event in March 2013 and met two visiting trade officials from Canada who were promoting the benefits of mutual trade.

Mr Heslop says: “This meeting was very useful. It led to an overseas visit to Canada and the potential to explore contracts with local shipyards. As result of this, we have made a start with a modest but very worthwhile order.

“Crucially, it is an export opportunity which would not have come about without the We Are International event.”

We’ve also recently launched the Graduates for International Business scheme with UKTI and Yorkshire Universities. This is a pilot scheme to connect businesses with an international graduate or postgraduate student who can provide vital intelligence, language and cultural skills to help the company break into target export markets.

The recent budget statement from the Chancellor emphasised the importance of exports to the UK’s economic recovery. We welcome the steps the government is taking to support UK exports reach £1 trillion by 2020. Leeds City Region LEP is ensuring it plays its part in making this a reality.