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Business

Made in America: U.S. government strives for more exports

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Courtesy of Mercer's Dairy.
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The federal government continues to try to get more businesses to go international, and that includes businesses in central New York.

Among the success stories at a “Made in Rural America” conference in Cortland recently was the growth of an international market for Mercer’s wine ice cream. Mercer’s Dairy in Boonville has been a local ice cream institution for years on Route 12, halfway between Utica and Watertown.

Owner Roxaina Hurlburt says her business now extends to more than 15 countries, thanks to wine ice cream. the product was developed quite by accident at a Farm Days event sponsored by then Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"I always am next to the same wine guy, and we were taking vanilla ice cream and we were pouring wine and making floats," Hurlburt said. "Jim Trezise, of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, said, 'I don’t know why you just don’t make wine ice cream, this is a waste of time.' I said, 'well I don’t have wine.' He said, 'you do now,' and he sent me a case of wine. And that’s what started it."

The dairy ultimately created six brands of wine ice cream, and Hurlburt quickly realized they needed a bigger market,

"We manufactured in Boonville, but we’re not going to sell a lot of wine ice cream in Boonville," Hurlburt explained. "So in order to make it successful, we had to go to a bigger market."

So after several years of figuring out how to package and transport the wine product, they started exporting not only across state lines, but all over the world from Indonesia to South Africa to the Netherlands. Exports now make up a quarter of the company’s business. Hurlburt says the key to jumping into the world economy was getting out of the office and going to trade shows and networking with government officials.

"It was because we were there, and we were there because we’d been somewhere else first," Hurlburt said. "And Jim knew who we were, and Sen. Clinton’s staff knew who we were."

That’s the key point that Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary Bruce Andrews says he wanted to make during a recent visit to central New York.

“What we want to do is get the message out that A, there are these opportunities around the world, and B, we really want to give information and assistance to companies, particularly ones new to exporting. so once they see that if they export to one market they can replicate that success," Andrews explained.

Andrews says the federal government is at the ready to help companies like Mercer’s sell their products in other countries. He says 95 percent of the world’s customers are outside America, but fewer than five percent of American businesses export.

Andrews says there is a huge opportunity because of a growing middle class in other parts of the world -- particularly in Mexico, Asia, and Africa.

"Those middle classes are all looking to spend, and they recognize the quality and what it means for something to be really made in America," Andrews said. "They appreciate that. They’re hungry for American products and services.”

He also says the federal government has worked to eliminate some of the bureaucratic roadblocks to sending goods and services overseas, like fewer export controls and streamlined paperwork in some cases.

“What we're doing in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security is developing what’s called a single-window, so you go to one platform and one form, rather than multiple different forms and multiple different agencies, which will make it easier and save time,” Andrews said.

Hurlburt says she couldn’t have reached those foreign markets without government help.   

“Where it was miserable, they made it right," Hurlburt said. "Like we couldn’t sell it in New York state because the Liquor Authority couldn’t find a place for us. So they passed a bill called Mercer’s Law. Took them six months. You can’t get anything done in six months. I don’t care if you’re talking about Albany, Washington or Syracuse."