AS UK businesses are being urged to find new markets abroad to beat our economic woes, some Gloucestershire companies are already setting the pace.
Last week it was revealed that exports from the South West hit £12.5 billion in the year to March 2012-a year on year increase of £1 billion.
UK Trade and Investment director for the South West Russell Jones said: "This is promising news. Now is an opportune time to land overseas contracts as 2012 offers huge potential for exporters across the region.
"The eyes of the world will be on the country to witness the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games."
The region's fastest growing market outside Europe has been Sub-Sahara Africa with exports to these nations increasing by 27 per cent.
Recently Gloucester manufacturer Prima Dental Group injected a further £2.8m into the business and announced it was creating 17 new jobs as it continues on a path of rapid growth and expansion in international markets.
Prima Dental is the fastest-growing carbide bur (dental drill) manufacturer in the world.
This major investment reflects the continued success of the business in exporting Prima Dental's quality dental instruments to 100 different markets. And it comes shortly after the firm clinched its largest ever deal, valued at £1.5m, to supply dental drills to the US market.
As a result of the investment in new machinery it is also expanding its 115-strong workforce at its base at Waterwells Business Park in Quedgeley.
Richard Muller, Prima Dental's managing director, explained: "This new investment reflects our strong export growth as we tap into new international and emerging markets, and this tranche of funding will enable us to significantly increase production in line with growing global demand.
"We are currently producing around 10 million products a year but this is predicted to increase to around 13 million over the next year or so.
"Obviously, the key to our expansion rests on recruiting the right people for these new roles and building on the quality of our existing team."
Prima Dental is recognised as a world leader and exporter of quality dental instruments to over 100 countries and is anticipating further growth from sales in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, China and India.
It has reported a 20 per cent growth year-on-year for the previous five years and all indicators point to continued growth.
The company is taking a team to China this month to launch a new dental bur product at the Sino Dental Show in Beijing . The trip marks the start of a new relationship with a major Chinese distributor, which is working across 30 provinces, with 47 outlets and a team of over 500 sales staff.
This is the fifth major relationship that Prima Dental Group has forged in China, as the firm already supplies products to a brand name distributor, shipping 250,000 units in 2010 and 475,000 units in 2011. The company works with the trade body China British Business Council (CBBC) which offers a wide variety of services from cultural trading advice, to hot-desking and office space out in the country and much more.
The company will also make visits to Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing this year.
Dan Hodgson, Prima Dental's sales manager, said of the company's success in China: "The country has a huge population of 1.3bn, with 50,000 privately owned dental practices, 110,000 dentists, and 18,000 hospitals that carry out dental procedures.
"The approximate ratio of population to dentist in the USA is one dentist to 1,800 people, in China it sits at one to 15,000 currently, so it is a market that has huge potential for growth, in order to meet changing population needs.
"We currently supply a range of products to major distributors in China. But our new relationship will give us the potential to spread our reach across a much wider geographical range, breaking into new provinces.
"It's an exciting time to be working in China, as there are a growing number of people with disposable income, keen to spend on personal care. We've become adept at researching these markets, meeting the people on the ground that supply products to local practitioners, in order to tailor our products to their specific cultural and operational needs. We even manage the packaging process here on site in Gloucester, undertaking all language translation, confirming legal compliance and producing translated marketing material. So I've just been brushing up on my Mandarin."
Another county company has discovered new export markets by pioneering the manufacture of equipment for converting waste cooking oil into bio fuel.
Stonehouse-based Green Fuels was started in 2003 by chief executive officer and MD James Hygate and his father Colin who is chairman.
When UK sales stated to slow in 2008, the company began looking to the overseas market. Now Green Fuels exports some four fifths of its equipment and the figure is still growing.
For James Hygate, it means frequent travel overseas but he sees that contact as essential.
"You cannot make these sales remotely," he said. "They are built on meeting people and having relationships and building confidence. I am out of the country now five months of the year, there is a lot of travelling."
James said the company had been supported in its successful export drive by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the Government agency which helps British businesses gain a foothold in other countries. "They set up initial meetings and got things going," said James who added that his company had faced copycat competitors in the UK who did not always meet Green Fuels' compliance standards.
Last year Green Fuels saw overseas sales rise to 80 per cent and this expected to increase to 85 per cent. Turnover of £1.6 million last year is expected to rise to around £3 million this year.
The company now has export markets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Canada and the US. Green Fuels has provided equipment for fast food chain McDonald's in Dubai so that cooking oil can be recycled to fuel the trucks that deliver the food.
James said: "We have good reference sites all over the world. We have our first plant in Australia which is being commissioned next month. The company employs eight people at its Stonehouse plant and customers range from small home users to major cities.
"We have four plants in London recycling most of the cooking oil," said James. "We have manufacturing capability in the United States but the UK is a pretty cost effective area to be manufacturing in.
"The market is now ripe for our equipment. It has been nine years of hard work but it is beginning to pay off. It is pretty exciting."
Green Fuels patented technology can be up and running within a week of arriving on site. Customers are currently producing more than one million litres of bio fuel a day.
Even Prince Charles' former Aston Martin was converted to run on bio fuel-converted from surplus wine by Green Fuels.
Meanwhile Stroud-based export market management company Tudor Rose International, which supplies British brands including Cadbury Biscuits and Lucozade, has taken its focus away from China. Acting managing director Nick Short said: "We have a longstanding business in Russia and India is a focus due to it being easier to do business, more current distributor opportunities and their economy is forecast to overtake China in 2015."
Speaking to county businesses HSBC's senior economist Mark Beresford-Smith urged local businesses to go out and take advantage of overseas markets and emerging economies.
China's economy was growing at eight to nine per cent with Indonesia "coming up on the rails".
Luxury cars had overtaken scrap metal as the biggest UK export to China. But Mr Beresford-Smith said the UK needed to do more to get a share of the export cake.
Malcolm Trigg, managing director of Gloucester-based Gantrail, which makes crane rail components, explained how his company had not only found new markets in China but also set up a factory in the country.
"There are big challenges, you have got to understand. But the rewards at the end of it are well worthwhile," said Mr Trigg, pictured. "China still holds so much opportunity."
Stewart Ferguson, head of research at the China-Britain Business Council, stressed the opportunities in China's regional cities and said it now had the world's second largest economy. The biggest exports to the country from the South West region were aerospace, rail and boats followed by metal and scrap.
And of China's 1.35 billion population, some 250 million are now regarded as middle class.
PUBLICATION: This is Gloucestershire - 26 June 2012