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VALLEY BUSINESS | VENTURING INTO INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Global Expert Is Pointing the Way

Commerce: Consultant mans an office in Van Nuys once a week, providing research and advice to Valley firms interested in doing business overseas.

May 02, 2000|CONSTANCE SOMMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VAN NUYS — In an office on the fourth floor of the Van Nuys municipal building, R. Vance Baugham spends each Tuesday trying to jump-start international trade.

The manager of the San Fernando Valley trade office is holding seminars. He's attending meetings. He's planning publicity mailings. He says he's running at full speed all over the Valley, trying to help local businesses navigate the intricacies of overseas trade.

But it's hard to spread the word one day a week. And it's only been eight months since the Port of Los Angeles operation opened, anyway. So if not many people know about Baugham or his office yet, it's understandable.

"We've never heard of them," said Tamara Carr, executive director of the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

"I knew they were going to do it, but I didn't know they were open yet," said Nancy Hoffman, chief executive of the Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, located in Van Nuys, about three blocks north of the trade office.

Bruce Ackerman, president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley and someone who has worked closely with Baugham said: "It's one of the best-kept secrets we've got over here."

Baugham actually works for the nonprofit World Trade Center Assn. Los Angeles-Long Beach, as vice president of trade development. But in a contract with the port, he spends Tuesdays in Van Nuys and environs, talking to Valley-area businesses that may want to plunge into foreign trade, but don't exactly know how.

Baugham has spent his career steeped in the details of international commerce, from a stint as a California-based senior trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce to a more recent job as the director of the American Institute for Executive Education. There, he worked with U.S. and Russian industries to develop sales, joint ventures and technology transfers.

These days, he helps Valley companies create new business for themselves in countries as nearby as Canada or as far away as Indonesia.

"I have a fun job," he said. "I help people make more money."

One company he's been helping lately is Continental Coin & Jewelry, a Van Nuys-based retailer of precious metals, rare coins and jewelry. The company also owns a facility outside the Valley that it says is the nation's fourth-largest private mint.

Ken Gerston, Continental's chief executive, met Baugham about six weeks ago, when the trade expert spoke before a Valley-based business commission of which Gerston is a member. Baugham offered his services and Gerston took him up on it, asking for help in locating overseas manufacturers for a money clip and key chain he wants to sell. A nominal fee of $25 and four weeks later, Baugham presented Continental with a preliminary list of manufacturers in various countries.

"To me, they did thousands of dollars worth of research for which I'd have to pay somebody [otherwise]," Gerston said. "I was truly impressed with the smoothness of the operation."

Best of all, he said, the trade office is practically around the corner.

"You don't have to go down to San Pedro; they're here," Gerston said. "This is one of the best things the port has ever done."

Since the trade office opened in September, Baugham has helped numerous clients, though the number is not entirely clear.

A report Baugham provided to The Times states that he's given "substantive counseling" to 153 Valley-area businesses between September 1999 and February, resulting in $3.85 million worth of new international trade.

He also drew up what he termed a success profile of one of the businesses, C-Shore International, a Van Nuys exporter and distributor of dried beans and other products.

But Jacques Isaac, the owner of C-Shore, said he's been working with Baugham for about four years. Until recently, that meant communicating with Baugham from his office downtown at the World Trade Center. And a one-year sales increase from $320,000 to $4.5 million that Baugham referred to in his profile occurred in 1996, the first year they began working together, Isaac said.

Still, the men remain in frequent contact. "I just talked to him on Monday," Isaac said in a recent telephone interview. "Whenever I have a problem, the first person I contact is Vance."

Baugham said the figures refer to counseling that he's been involved with, both before and after the Valley office opened.

Baugham's work has impressed the people around him, who are enthusiastic about his abilities and his potential.

"He's a matchmaker and an expediter," said Carol Rowen, a Port of Los Angeles commissioner, a Valley resident and the spark behind the opening of the Valley office.

She believes small Valley businesses were sitting on a well of untapped trade possibilities and would respond well to someone planted in their backyard, with their interests in mind--if only one day a week at first. So the port is paying about half of the $20,000 it will take to run the Valley office annually. The rest comes from the World Trade Center and corporate donations.

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