Central New Jersey is a $36 billion juggernaut when it comes to doing business overseas. That’s the net worth of Major League Baseball. And pretty much no one is talking about it.

True, there are several companies here conducting international trade, but until the past year or so, no one really bothered to look at the scope of it all. What’s the scope, you ask?

“Exports sustain 20,000 New Jersey companies,” said Peter Crowley, president and CEO of the Princeton Chamber. The kicker: “Ninety percent of them small companies, with fewer than 500 employees.”

Such statistics are the impetus behind the chamber’s Global Opportunities Program, a partnership between the Princeton and Middlesex chambers of commerce that looks to expand international outreach for the nearly 2,000 companies the chambers share between them. The program features a multi-armed collaboration between the chambers and other business groups, such as ExportJersey, the Small Business Development Center, and the European American Chamber of Commerce.

The chambers will host a networking meeting for the Global Opportunities Program on Wednesday, February 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn at 100 Independence Way. Cost: $40. Visit www.PrincetonChamber.org/GOP.

The kernel of the Global Opportunities Program began in the summer of 2014, when Crowley talked with Larry Richards, the Princeton rep of an economic development group in Quebec, whose purpose was to get businesses from Canada to expand in central New Jersey and businesses here to expand to Canada, and Anne O’Neill, a rep from the Alsace, France, Region for Economic Development, about finding ways to do business with Canada and France.

Crowley reached out to Camille Sailer, president of the European American Chamber in Old Tappan. From there, the staggering scope of New Jersey’s place on the world market revealed itself, and the Global Opportunities initiative was under way. According to Sailer, that scope boils down to hundreds of thousands of jobs in New Jersey that hinge on international business.

So why doesn’t the potential to grab a slice of three dozen Powerball payouts have every company in central New Jersey salivating? Why the need for the chambers to spread what should be an obvious message to anyone who’s in business to make money? Well, in part it comes down to misperception.

Say a phrase like “import/export” to a small business owner, say someone who owns a three-person deli, and you’re likely to get a chilly response. Small guys can’t play in that arena, so the thinking goes.

This, of course, is BS. The owner of a sandwich shop, particularly one that specializes in a particular ethnic food, has an automatic reason to get into the global marketplace with the import of foods from that country. A Jamaican deli, for example, is an obvious place to look for authentic Jamaican foods or brands. You don’t need to be a Walmart to be a player in the world market.

A recent business deal highlights how small and simple it can be to enter into international trade, or at least the basics of it. A few months ago, Lina Llona, president of the Middlesex Chamber, met a woman from China who worked for Merck. The woman was looking for a lab to lease in Middlesex County, and the chamber helped her find a space in Piscataway. The deal opened the door to a new business in the county and to the woman’s colleagues in China. All because of a conversation.

“I met the woman because she was my bookkeeper’s client,” Llona said. But, important to add is that “there are more smaller businesses here than we realize,” she said. And those small-to-medium-sized companies are the ones the Global Opportunities Program is trying to reach, because many of them don’t know what they’re missing out on.

“A lot of times there is apprehension from small companies,” said Brian Juleskusky, a business banker at Bank of America, who, along with Sailer and Gerry Fennelly, owner of NAI/Fennelly Commercial Real Estate Services, serve as committee chairs on the Global Opportunities Program. Juleskusky said the committee wants to make the program an ongoing resource, not just an events-driven enterprise that only operates in networking meetings or presentations.

Sailer said that another reason to develop the program is because while the international market is open to businesses of all sizes and types, it’s still an intense, competitive endeavor. She would know — Sailer comes from an internationally focused family and has spent most of her adult life doing business either abroad or with companies that are.

Her grandfather was for many years the New York president of the German Verein, a large German-American club. Her father’s family had a textile business in Germantown in Philadelphia, and her mother was an editor at Bell Laboratories. “I grew up in an international household where there was a lot of emphasis on knowing what was outside in the world,” she said.

Sailer earned her bachelor’s in international relations from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, which, incidentally, is named after her great-grandmother, Ruth Easton, one of the town’s founders. She also studied at the University of Madrid, where she received a degree in Spanish studies. She also speaks French, Dutch, Korean, and, of course, German.

Sailer earned her J.D. from Villanova and practiced law in Pennsylvania before being accepted into the American diplomatic service. Her first assignment was as a foreign-service officer in Buenos Aires, kicking off 20 years of making a living abroad.

From 1991 to 1995 she served in Stuttgart, Germany, as principal commercial officer and consul at the American Consulate General, representing U.S. business interests in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. While there, she helped expand the presence of American companies in the country’s knotty regulatory environment and helped Mercedes make its first overseas investment, in Alabama.

Sailer then spent seven years in Seoul, Korea, advising U.S. firms regarding investment problems and market access, negotiating trade agreements, and generally promoting trade and investment. From 2002 to 2007 she was the regional commercial counselor at the American Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, where she ran a regional program of the U.S. government on trade and investment.

In 2008 she returned to Pennsylvania to become the vice president for business development at the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. From 2009 to 2011 she was the director of international trade for New Jersey. In 2011 she became the president of the European American Chamber.

As Sailer sees it, the experience, whether learned through the University of Hard Knocks or from a more academic schooling, that companies in central New Jersey have can be of tremendous help to companies tinkering with the idea of getting into international business. “It’s not just the businesses here, it’s the brain trust,” she said. It can be expensive and convoluted to get into international trade, sure, but the Global Opportunities Program can help.

Crowley said that every business that’s a member of either chamber has access to this resource, which he hopes will build itself into a substantial operation, offering everything from friendly advice to helping companies find out the nuts and bolts of regulations, money, and getting paid when conducting business abroad.

“If you belong to either chamber, you’re automatically part of the Global Opportunities Program,” Crowley said. And remember — that’s about 2,000 businesses that employ 450,000 people.

“This is a major resource,” Our goal is to point [people] in the right direction.”

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