When Tina Weyant began her position as founding executive director of the World Trade Center (WTC) Harrisburg nearly 30 years ago, there was no internet.
“Exporting was foreign to everyone,” said Weyant. “We started as an offshoot of the York Chamber, a group of manufacturers around a table—it was revolutionary.”
She spent a lot of time on the phone, building a network. Manufacturing nonprofit MANTEC provided some financial support and hired Weyant. They hit upon the name South Central Pennsylvania International Network, SPIN. A few years later, the state began “beefing up its export development program,” Weyant said.
“Lots of companies had such a big domestic business that they didn’t see the value globally,” she said. “Now, the more that you can diversify, the better.”
The organization morphed into today’s WTC Harrisburg, a private, nonprofit organization with a mission to connect the companies in eight counties of southcentral PA to global opportunities.
Momentum continues to build. Exports from the region totaled $12.2 billion in 2016, ranking it as the state’s third-greatest export region, behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, out of the state’s 10 regions. Between 2003 and 2016, southcentral PA’s export market increased by 51 percent, supporting more than 70,000 jobs and representing 19 percent of the state’s total export market.
Exports are tracked in three areas—services, goods and agriculture. Looking specifically at the manufacturing segment, southcentral PA ranks second in the state, just $600 million less than the Philadelphia region.
One of the driving factors behind the region’s success is location.
“We have the infrastructure to import and export, with easy access to the ports of Baltimore and Philadelphia within easy driving distance,” Weyant said. “We also have the railroad infrastructure with the Enola Yard being one of the largest in the country.”
Additional factors include a skilled workforce with numerous technical schools—although “the biggest challenge right now is getting enough workers at all levels,” Weyant said.
But a creative X-factor might be southcentral PA’s greatest attribute.
“It’s traditionally a very independent area, a strong region with really good products—crazy good products made by small to medium companies,” said Weyant.
Each county tends to have one strong anchor company making a product that’s a household name—Hershey’s in Dauphin County; Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster County; York County’s Johnson Controls.
But at the WTC Harrisburg, Weyant works with lesser-known giants in their industries.
Radius, a Berks County company, produces the No. 1 eco-friendly toothbrush on Amazon. Manheim’s Clair Brothers has worked with “every large venue that wants clear audio” around the world, going back to Elvis performances, Weyant said. And who says you can’t build a better mousetrap? Woodstream Corp., Lititz, is the world’s leading manufacturer of mousetraps, along with dozens of other wildlife and pest control products.
Weyant never intended to follow in her parent’s footsteps.
She grew up in Germany, where her father was CFO for an American company involved in global trade. Meantime, her mother was an administrative assistant who performed translations for foreign companies. Weyant was 16 when the family moved to the Pittsburgh area.
Armed with a master’s degree in international relations, Weyant originally wanted to work for the World Bank. But the WTC opportunity fell into her lap—“it was fascinating and still is,” she said.
Any regional company can access WTC Harrisburg’s resources at no cost. Similar to a chamber of commerce, WTC Harrisburg has more than 500 active members representing more than 100 member companies to whom it continually offers training. It’s especially important, given constant changes in government regulations. When we met, President Trump had signed an updated NAFTA deal just the day before.
Kerry Woods has worked with Weyant as a member of WTC Harrisburg since the mid-1990s. She’s sales manager for PR Hoffman, a Carlisle manufacturer founded in 1938.
“Without the export market, we would be a shell of a business,” said Woods.
PR Hoffman began exporting processed quartz for radio communications right after World War II. Today, 45 to 70 percent, or $5 to 8 million, of the company’s sales are in exports to Europe, China, Japan and other Asian markets. The company services different industries with electronics, ceramics, glass optics and silicon carbide semiconductors, including those used for 5G networks, satellites, electronic vehicles and autonomous engineering.
Just a few weeks ago, Weyant connected Woods to a state grant that will help underwrite a trip to France for a trade show that is expected to open additional markets.
“WTC Harrisburg is a valuable resource for us as a small business,” Woods said. “Tina has been able to help us make contacts for our needs—from translations to the understanding of foreign contracts.”
One of more than 300 World Trade Centers located in 91 countries, WTC Harrisburg is the regional liaison to the state.
Pennsylvania’s export game is strong—it ranks 10th among all states in terms of exports, which topped $41 billion in 2018.
Jennifer Black, executive director of export development for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, has worked with Weyant since 2001.
“She’s made a difference for a lot of companies,” said Black. “Not only is Tina passionate about her work with companies and committed to helping them succeed, she is supportive of others in the field and has served as a mentor to many of us, in so many ways.”
Perhaps this is all the more incredible when you consider that Weyant only has one full-time staff member, along with a handful of constantly rotating interns.
Weyant points out that nearly every trade office across the state, plus those in neighboring states, is run by a woman.
“I have all sorts of ideas why that is,” she said, with a smile. “Number one, in this job, you have to multitask constantly.”
For more information on the World Trade Center Harrisburg, 1000 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg, visit wtccentralpa.org.