New England is a land of opportunity for Yorkshire firms

Firms based in Yorkshire and New England are building bridges. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.

Michiel Brouns the founder of Oricalcum, Garforth, Leeds..Picture by Simon Hulme

New England can lay a powerful claim to being the birthplace of the American Revolution. In the 1770s, political giants such as Samuel Adams from Massachusetts led the revolt against British rule. The Boston Tea Party and the battles of Lexington and Concord set America on the path to independence.

Today, New England historians are proud of the region’s fine collection of buildings that date from the time of the founding fathers. But when they need advice about restoring many of these historic structures, their thoughts turn to Yorkshire.

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In recent years, an alliance has been forged between companies in New England and Yorkshire based on mutual respect. This move to establish links between the two regions has gained momentum since the referendum vote in favour of Brexit.

Leeds-based Oricalcum, which supplies premium linseed paint, oil, accessories and paint-removal tools for restoration projects, is doing its bit to ensure visitors continue to marvel at the pristine condition of New England’s historic sites. Oricalcum was established in 2012 by managing director Michiel Brouns, who is a globally recognised expert on the use of linseed paint in historic and timber buildings. Mr Brouns has visited New England and met potential customers and sales agents in the US, with support from the programme.

ExportExchange is a peer-to-peer export knowledge, mentoring and connections network for the Leeds City Region, which was launched by the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, the Department for International Trade and a number of private-sector media, marketing and export specialists in June 2017.

It aims to help businesses increase exports, grow revenues and create jobs.

The US market for Oricalcum’s products is potentially huge and Mr Brouns is embarking on a programme of sales and marketing activity in New England this year.

“We are specialists in the restoration market in the UK and no-one offers the products we do in the US,” he said. “So, with the expertise we have built up, we have a fantastic head-start to become market leaders in our area.”

The company’s route to the New England market is through a fascinating range of contacts, including architects, surveyors and conservation officers. It has also forged ties with societies such as Historic New England and the Providence Preservation Society.

“We have already appointed a stockist for Oricalcum linseed paint for the whole of the US. I will be spending a lot of time over there as well.”

Oricalcum’s success in New England is part of a wider trend. Stefan Pryor, secretary of commerce for the state of Rhode Island, led a trade mission of seven US businesses which visited Leeds and Hull last year.

Rhode Island firms met with business leaders with the aim of growing exports between the state and the North of England and Scotland. Secretary Pryor and his team talked to UK businesses about the latest incentives and support available for British companies planning to set up an operation in Rhode Island, which is increasingly being seen by UK businesses as a first landing place in the US.

The trade mission was organised by the Chafee Centre for International Business at Bryant University, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the US Department of Commerce. The delegation also met potential Yorkshire exporters involved in ExportExchange. The visit built upon a successful trip from Boston and New England to Leeds in 2016 which proved to be a meeting of minds.

Paul Snape, the founder of US market consultants GBM and Harrogate-based public relations firm Appeal, has been a leading advocate for increased trade links between Yorkshire and New England.

He said: “There have been a number of reasons that business has started to flow more readily between New England and the Northern Powerhouse region, and especially Yorkshire, in the last few years.

“Firstly, the US market has become the number-one target for every exporter in every sector since the June 2016 vote [to leave the European Union].

“The US has 41 per cent of all the world’s millionaires and has been a strong economy until very recent wobbles. The exchange rate shift after the Brexit vote has made UK goods and services more competitive, and there is also a boost of interest in UK goods after the recent Royal wedding. The US is the largest, most lucrative market in the world, and it also happens to be English-speaking.”

New England and Yorkshire have a shared history as centres for industries such as textiles and engineering in the 1800s.

“More recently, they have both become centres for financial services, healthcare and life sciences and technology,” said Mr Snape.

Mr Snape added: “The Boston Consulate, one of only nine in the country, with its 20-strong team of trade and investment and consular staff, is also a draw to UK firms seeking support.

“The Department for International Trade teams in Boston, led by former Tadcaster resident Kirsten Chambers-Taylor, are a great resource for UK firms heading to the US and they open doors for firms visiting the city every single day.

“It also helps that people like the idea of visiting and it’s an enjoyable place to spend time. The peer-to-peer export mentoring service set up in Leeds in 2017 has provided numerous Yorkshire firms with support and advice through one-to-one mentoring and events to assist them entering the US market, including Oricalcum.

Mr Snape established GBM in Boston in 2014, with the aim of helping US firms who planned to enter the UK market. However, since the vote in favour of Brexit, he spends most of his time helping UK firms break into the US.

Over the last three years, GBM has hosted visits to Leeds and Yorkshire from key figures in business, education and local government. This has delivered a flow of new connections and collaborations which show that ties between New England and Yorkshire are stronger than ever.

If you plan to enter a new overseas market, the smartest approach is to spend time getting to know the key players within it

Zandra Moore, the chief executive of Panintelligence, the Leeds-based business intelligence and analytics developer, flew out to Boston, Massachusetts, to assess its potential for commercial links.

She said: “We were considering the US as our first international office after securing a few contracts in the US and I had been looking at Atlanta (in the US state of Georgia) due to its fintech community.

“I was invited to an event at the law firm Clarion in Leeds, where a trade mission from Boston and the Consulate General Harriet Cross was speaking. The growing trade links between Boston and Leeds, which are similar-sized cities with a similar cultural profile, made the case for Boston very compelling.”

Ms Moore left Boston with a very positive impression of the city and its business community. She said she spent her trip to the US “checking that the compelling case for Boston was justified and also understanding what support we could expect”.

She added: “We have not found it difficult to continue conversations once we returned to the UK. It is the US equivalent to Yorkshire, with a friendly, well networked community who have a work-life balance. It is two hours north of the main commercial centre on the east coast.”