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A small wooden train includes a Made in NE Indiana sticker.

Little train that could push trade

Marketers asking execs to see import-export benefits

Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Teresa Sutton, vice president of marketing and sales at Custom Art, puts stickers on miniature trains as a marketing effort to support the benefits of a foreign-trade zone at the airport.

Local officials hope mailing wooden trains will generate interest in global trade.

Will it work? They think it can. They think it can.

A new marketing campaign is targeting 80 companies that economic development officials believe would benefit from using the foreign-trade zone designation.

International trade is important to companies in the state. Indiana’s exports grew to $32.2 billion in 2011, a 12 percent increase over 2010, according to U.S. Census data.

Monthly mailings will include a toy-sized, wooden train, scheduled to be delivered by the end of June to 10 companies in each Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties.

Future mailings will represent other shipping options: ships, airplanes and tractor-trailer rigs. Accompanying fact sheets list benefits of using a foreign-trade zone, including the ability to delay or avoid duty charges and avoid bonded warehouse charges and time limits.

Asher Agency, a Fort Wayne advertising firm, designed the marketing campaign for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority and the city of Fort Wayne.

Elissa McGauley, the city’s economic development specialist, was impressed by the approach.

“I thought it was very clever,” she said of the wooden toys made by a Columbia City craftsman. “Printed materials kind of get lost in the piles of mail companies receive.”

McGauley believes some executives are intimidated by the technicalities of importing and exporting. But federal, state and local officials can demystify the process, she said.

Foreign-trade zones – a kind of no man’s land – can increase revenue and cut costs by allowing companies to import raw materials, assemble products and sell them overseas without paying import duties. The fees aren’t assessed as long as items remain in the zone.

Otherwise, companies pay duties and have to wait for government refunds, tying up vital working capital.

Also, instead of importing finished products, a local company can import components and assemble the finished products inside a foreign trade subzone. That allows the company to create more U.S. jobs while paying lower import duties or no duties at all on the finished product.

Individual company buildings can become designated sites. To qualify, the business must provide a secure area that is guarded and insured.

McGauley said three or four companies have made serious inquiries about the foreign-trade zone. She’ll consider the marketing campaign a success if just one company in the region adopts a foreign-trade zone strategy.