US Senator looking to improve economy through exports
By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) paid a timely visit to American Time & Signal in Dassel Tuesday, touring the clock manufacturing facility and gathering ideas on ways to help increase exports.
Klobuchar was recently appointed to serve on President Obama’s Export Council, the primary national advisory committee on international trade, working to promote export expansion and resolve trade-related issues in business, industrial, agricultural, labor, and government sectors.
This visit was part of a two-day tour across the central region of the state, with the focus being on Minnesota companies growing by exporting goods in addition to the work they already do in the US. Other stops included Miller Manufacturing in Glencoe, along with businesses in Benson, Glenwood, Willmar, St. Cloud, Chaska, and Morris.
“Because we’ve realized, with this growing middle class in countries from China to India . . . people are starting to buy our products instead of them just making them and shipping them to us, we’re starting to make [products] and ship [products] to them,” Klobuchar explained. “And that’s much better, because it means jobs in America.”
“[American Time & Signal] is an example of a company that has been here for quite awhile, and has been willing to change with the times to wireless technology, and look at exports in order to expand and keep jobs here in Dassel and in this area,” Klobuchar commented.
The company exports mainly to Canada, but would like to see sales expand to other nations, said American Time & Signal President Dieter Pape.
American Time & Signal had $58,974 in international sales in 2012, and $91,583 in 2011, excluding Canada, which contributed to $306,201 of its sales in 2012.
The most potential for increased sales is in the Middle East region.
The company recently fulfilled an order for 200 clocks for a Saudi Arabia school system, and is working on an 8,000-unit order, Dieter reported.
Some of the challenges the company has faced with exporting its products have been:
• overseas shipping costs shipping less than 50 clocks, for example, can cost more than $1,500;
• exchange rate competitive pricing can be difficult when the rate of exchange is not in the company’s favor, forcing it to reduce mark-up to very low margins; and
• language and communication barriers the company is staffed by people whose primary language is English, while some larger competitors have international offices with multilingual representatives.
To alleviate some of these challenges, the company would like more assistance from the government on identifying export requirements, Pape explained. This includes product label requirements such as whether to provide single or dual languages on the labels.
Streamlining the “red tape” would also be beneficial to manufacturers like American Time & Signal, Pape noted.
These concerns were all relayed to Klobuchar during her visit, which was much about gathering information like this to see how the export council can assist manufacturers like American Time & Signal.
Klobuchar explained that the export council is working to assist small and mid-sized companies through the foreign commercial service.
“[It’s] to help them to access those markets, because they can’t do it by themselves,” Klobuchar commented. “Once they get a foot in, sometimes the smallest companies can really grow from exporting.”
As far as the tour itself, Klobuchar said it was great to see the different clocks, and the pride the employees had in making the clocks.
“I’ve never seen so many clocks at once,” Klobuchar told one employee, adding, “Keep up the good work.”
She also commented on how fun it was to look back in time at some of the early versions of clocks, such as the James Remind-O-Timer, which is still being used in hotels today for wake-up calls, particularly overseas.
In addition, the senator commended the company on its great employee group and its willingness to provide work for people with disabilities.
For nearly 20 years, American Time & Signal has been working with ProWorks, a nonprofit that provides adult day training and habilitation services to people with developmental disabilities and related conditions. On average, the company employs 16 ProWorks clients.
Klobuchar especially liked hearing how each school clock is synchronized so that students, like her teenage daughter, can’t claim they were late to class because the clocks were wrong.
With health care being a large expense, the company is concerned how it will be affected by the new health care initiative, which was expressed to the senator.
Pape was told that much of it now lies in the state’s hands, as far as the details moving forward.
“We still don’t know what that’s going to be,” Pape said, adding that companies like to plan ahead for such financial impacts and right now, are left in limbo. “But we’re very optimistic,” he assured.
Pape said he appreciated the senator’s visit because, not only does it give the company more visibility, but it was also nice to talk one-on-one with an elected official.
“I applaud her for taking the time, not just to tour our company, but all the companies, as well,” Pape said.