The Work Left Undone: Perspectives on Small Business Opportunities in International Trade

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

There's an old adage that "art imitates life." In the musical Annie, the red-haired orphan escapes from the diabolical Miss Hannigan in search of the parents that had left her on the doorstep of the Municipal Girls Orphanage years earlier, promising to return. While on the run and exploring the streets of New York City during the Great Depression, Annie not only finds her famous sidekick Sandy, but she also shares a meal (and a song) with a Hooverville of individuals made homeless by the recent economic collapse. In classic musical logic, while hovering around the communal cauldron, the shanty town breaks into song, singing:

"We'd like to thank you, Herbert Hoover/For really showing us the way/You dirty rat, you Bureaucrat, you/Made us what we are today ..."

Now, there's plenty of evidence to demonstrate that placing the blame for the stock market crash and the resulting depression solely on the shoulders of former President Herbert Hoover is short-sighted. During the Great Depression, just like in our modern crisis, greed, questionable corporate ethics and insufficient regulation were the ultimate villains. Nonetheless, the psychological need to single out a lone individual as the guilty party always trumps reality.

There are many parallels between Annie's story and what is currently happening in the United States today. Unemployment has surged into double-digit territory and Americans from coast-to-coast are losing their homes. Animosity is brewing because President Barack Obama hasn't already delivered salvation, and bleak and weak economic indicators provide a steady chain of ammunition. And maybe some of that hostility is understandable as it would've been as difficult for Hoover to explain to the unemployed and homeless in Annie's Hooverville that it wasn't his fault as it would for Obama or former President George W. Bush to do so today.

The world has just experienced one of the greatest eras of economic turmoil ever, maybe second only to the Great Depression. Not surprisingly, it has earned the moniker the "Great Recession," as global markets were held hostage for more than 20 months, more than twice as long as the average duration of a normal recession. And the world still isn't out of the woods yet.

Global trade, the one reliable ally through the sinking bog of the economic downturn, became shaky and has slowly returned over the last several months, ebbing and flowing as nations emerge and then recede back into uncertainty. The United States was buoyed from sinking into a depression by a surge in export activity, spurred on by the weakening dollar. Germany's first unsteady steps from the fog of recession in the second quarter have since been strengthened by export stimulus, while the rest of Europe continues to trail behind. Canada is now confident that recovery is imminent, despite its strong reliance on the United States, while emerging Asian markets continue to bud and blossom.

Many experts had predicted that a rebound would be in full swing at this point and that the third quarter for most of the world would be one of flourishing revived economies. In part, that is true. The United States continues to plod forward, regaining ground at a modest pace, but has slipped along the way due to a still-elusive consumer confidence. Germany and France have long since been free of recession and the rest of Western Europe is making progress. In all likelihood, the light at the end of the tunnel is drawing near, but the upticks in recovery have been nowhere near as steep as anticipated.

Unfortunately, recovery is not uniform and in business the meek aren't clearly destined to inherit anything.

Cut Down to Size

To strengthen the country's foundation and help speed recovery, the United States has made small businesses and small business exporting its top priority. The Obama Administration has worked with legislators and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to clear any obstacles from the path of businesses looking to make the leap from Main Street to International Drive. …