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VALLEY BUSINESS | VENTURING INTO INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Valley Group Imports Information on Exports

May 02, 2000|BOB HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Long before most of the business world and business press began discussing the globalization of the economy, the San Fernando Valley had an international trade organization.

The group is Valley International Trade Assn. (www.vita-trade.org), and its volunteer president is Martin Gopelt, a business development officer in the international department of Comerica Bank.

VITA is not exactly a household word in the Valley business world, but Gopelt says the organization is working more closely of late with the San Fernando Valley Economic Alliance in an effort to raise awareness about the international trade group, not only in the Valley but throughout Southern California.

The Times recently interviewed Gopelt regarding VITA's goals and the significance of international trade in the Valley.

Question: How long has VITA been in existence, and what are its goals?

Answer: The organization was established in the 1970s. We're a nonprofit dedicated to promoting international trade in the San Fernando Valley. In that sense, we're the only organization of our kind in the Valley.

Q: How significant is international trade in the Valley?

A: The San Fernando Valley is very significant in terms of import and export. It's our estimate that we have at least several hundred companies who are doing significant amounts of international trade. In the Chatsworth to Camarillo high-tech corridor, for example, there are a lot of companies that are involved in exporting, and then there are a lot of general distributors of anything from gift ware and garments and furniture to small- and medium-sized manufacturers who are in the business of importing raw materials and components and then exporting a finished product.

Q: VITA doesn't seem to have the name recognition of some other business groups in the Valley. Why is that?

A: We have gotten some press coverage, including some coverage in The Times, but one reason we might not be as well known as some other groups is that we're a nonprofit and we're all volunteer. Maybe we've just been a well-kept secret, but I think the people who are involved in international business in the Valley know about us, and our events are well-attended.

Q: What are those events?

A: We have monthly seminars at Cal State Northridge, and our biggest event in cooperation with the Economic Alliance is an annual educational conference that we call Going Global.

Q: What's Going Global?

A: It's an annual combination seminar and exhibits by service companies in the international trade arena. This year will be our third straight year for it, and we're hoping to expand it from a Valley event to a regional Southern California international trade conference.

Q: What part will the Alliance play in the conference?

A: Bruce Ackerman [Economic Alliance president] has developed a concept called "how to" and 'where to" for the conference. The how-to portion of the conference will cover how to obtain financing, marketing and other services that are important components of international trade. The where-to portion will address where the best countries and regions of the world are for a company to market its particular kind of products or services.

Q: What else do you hope to accomplish at the conference?

A: We will also have quite a few exhibitors, like representatives from the Department of Commerce and other trade groups, from the Export-Import Bank, and from other service providers like banks and freight forwarders. That way, a company that's just getting involved in international trade can go around and get the information they need--or else find out where to go to get that information.

Q: What do you do at the monthly seminars?

A: We try to address topics of interest to companies that are already involved to some extent in import or export, or people who want to get involved and are looking for some guidance. Some of our attendees usually include service providers like banks, international trade consultants and freight forwarders.

Q: Where is the group's office?

A: As an all-volunteer nonprofit, we don't have our own office. When we have planning meetings, we use the Economic Alliance offices, and for our monthly meetings, we use Cal State Northridge.

Q: How is VITA funded?

A: We've had a number of corporate sponsors over the years, we raise some funds through memberships and our October seminar, and we get some funding from the Economic Alliance.

Q: Are you trying to build a higher-profile image for the group?

A: That's one of the things we're trying to accomplish in our partnership with the Economic Alliance. It's a very important strategic partnership for us for a number of reasons. For publicity purposes, the Economic Alliance can help us because it has access to so much media coverage. We definitely see our increasing involvement with the Economic Alliance as one of our more important strategic directions in the years to come.

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