International Economic Development

Text Description automatically generated with medium confidenceCity of Burlington

Economic Development Office

December 6, 2022

Tip O’Neal, former Speaker of the House in the 1980’s, is famous for the quote “All politics are local.” In many ways, this phrase could be appropriate for many economic development activities: be attentive to existing business needs, create a welcoming, business-friendly regulatory and development approach, and tell the story of what makes your community unique and desirable. 

But as the world gets smaller through the rise of global firms, supply chains and interconnected markets, competitive  companies and places that only focus locally could be missing big opportunities. 

Indeed, economic development has grown significantly important on the international level. While business owners may find it intimidating to establish business overseas, the globalization that exists today has made it remarkably easier – and effective – to engage with customers worldwide. 

From the perspective of a business owner, international business contains two different perspectives: local to international, and international to local. On the one hand, there are companies in the United States that are interested in broadening their scope – whether that is serving an international customer base, seeking investment, or expanding location abroad. On the other hand, there are also companies that are headquartered in other countries and are seeking to establish relationships in the United States. By seeking out foreign relationships, a business can diversify their access to employees, investors, customers, and technology, which can increase their ability to adapt and recover in a constantly changing business climate. 

So how do local businesses engage in the global economy? What benefits come from a foreign company seeking to establish a presence in the United States?

International Trade in North Carolina 

According to a 2021 report from the EDPNC on international companies in the state1, North Carolina is home to approximately 5,000 international companies from 51 countries around the world. The five most common countries of origin are Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan – from which almost 3,000 companies choose to locate in the state. Furthermore, the Piedmont Triad region is home to 360 of those 5,000, with around 36% of them involved in manufacturing. 

2018 saw a record $32.8 billion of Made-in-America goods exported to various parts of the world, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative in the Executive Office of the President. North Carolina was the 15th largest state exporter of goods in 2018. Exports supported an estimated 157,000 jobs, which nationally pay wages that are an estimated 18% above the national average. And, in support of the common theme of economic development, over 87% of the total companies that exported from North Carolina locations were small and medium sized businesses, with fewer than 500 employees.

In terms of international trade in Burlington, the Burlington Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is no exception. The Burlington MSA has around 37 international companies and recorded exports of $322.8 million in 2017, the latest data available on record. From 2007 to 2016, North Carolina saw $15 billion in new foreign direct investment (FDI), which is important for both meeting new investment targets and initiating the “reshoring” of manufacturing companies on American soil. Furthermore from 2016 to 2019, 50% of the Burlington MSA projects were FDI projects. To quantify, these projects represent $144 million in investment and 170 jobs. Burlington-based Chafe-Pro, for example, has recently established global distributions for their Static Rope Edge Protector (STREP®️) unit through four international partners across four continents. Haand Ceramics, also based in Burlington, has established trade relationships with companies in Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Qatar, and parts of Europe.

Resources for International Trade 

Entering into the international trade stage can seem intimidating, especially to small and medium sized businesses that have never ventured outside the United States. To remove some of the fear and stigma, the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) through the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) was created to aid small businesses in their international trade journey. STEP is specifically designed to help small businesses in the state to fund costs associated with international trade. Businesses that qualify are eligible for up to $24,000 in reimbursements for business building activities for exporting, categorized in the following ways: 

  • Up to $3,000 for eligible travel associated with exhibiting at a qualifying trade show; 
  • Up to $5,000 for booth costs for exhibiting at a qualifying trade show; 
  • Up to $6,000 for qualifying export services and marketing media which aid in reaching foreign markets; and 
  • Up to $10,000 for qualifying website localization and e-commerce fees. 

There are additional services in the public and private sector that are available to aspiring companies. Organizations such as the US Small Business Administration and the EDPNC help businesses connect to state resources and programs to both attract foreign companies to base major operations here in the state, as well as support North Carolina firms to export goods around the world. Services in the private sector include website localization, growing sales, and online marketing from organizations like IBT Online, who serves over 650 companies through their Online Global Programs. 

Even in a world this big, the interconnectivity and relationships within international economic development make it so that even the smallest business can succeed in transcending borders. As business continues to adapt to a post-COVID-19 reality, and companies and workers alike are looking for solutions in clean energy, equitable practices, and social justice, local economic development organizations seek to assist in making cities like Burlington thrive in the global setting. 

Be sure to contact the Burlington Economic Development Office if you are interested in discovering what international trade and financing opportunities are available to you and your business!

1. Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC). 2021. International Companies in NC - DB 2021. electronic dataset, EDPNC.

Isabella DeLaGarza, EYOS Fellow

City Contact
Isabella DeLaGarza
425 S. Lexington Ave. 
Burlington, NC 27215