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A chat with Erin Cole of Global NY at Empire State Development

In this latest installment of Thinking International, covering the world of international trade, I chat with Erin Cole, senior VP for Global NY at Empire State Development (ESD). She manages New York State’s foreign offices and Global NY staff. The Global NY mission is to increase state exports and attract more foreign direct investment (FDI). 

Cole previously served as president of World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara (WTCBN), the leading international trade services provider in the Buffalo Niagara region. Prior to leading WTCBN, she worked in Central Asia for 4 1/2 years with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), managing economic development and regional trade programs. In addition to USAID, Cole previously worked for the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce and has served in Russia; Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Kazakhstan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan. Her expertise is private-sector development with a focus on international trade and export promotion. 


Lesselroth: Why should any company look at the international market as a way to expand?


Cole: Exporting helps a business to diversify its sales and its risk. If the company’s domestic market is in recession, then overseas sales can provide a lifeline. If the business has saturated its domestic market with product, then exporting may be the only option for significant growth.


Lesselroth: What should a business be prepared to do if it is going to expand internationally?

Cole: Before a company decides to expand internationally, it should identify the key staff needed to create and implement an export plan, and provide export education opportunities to them, if needed. Exporting requires certain upfront investments, and the business needs to be realistic about what it can afford and at what stage. Numerous resources exist in New York state to help businesses to create an export plan, educate staff, identify external funding sources to implement the plan, and provide objective, expert guidance along the way. In Central New York, those resources include ESD’s Global NY division, the U.S. Commercial Service, and the CNYIBA — all of which work closely together to leverage resources and share information.


Lesselroth: What kinds of services does ESD offer small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) looking to expand internationally?

Cole: ESD Global NY provides one-on-one export counseling; customized market research and partner searches through overseas representatives in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Israel, South Africa, and China; participation in organized trade missions and overseas trade shows; and two separate grant programs that help companies offset the costs of their exporting activities.


Lesselroth: How much does it cost a New York state company to engage in your services?

Cole: ESD Global NY provides free export counseling, market research, and partner searches to eligible New York businesses through our Export Marketing Assistance Service. It is also free for companies to apply for the two grant programs, and Global NY staff can walk them through the application process to ensure a complete application.


Lesselroth: How does ESD help companies deal with challenges they may face when deciding to go international?

Cole: Each company will face its own challenges, depending on its products and services, target foreign markets, regulatory requirements, and in-house expertise. ESD Global NY staff can meet one-on-one with New York state companies to discuss their challenges and develop a strategy for overcoming them. Global NY can also refer businesses to other resources that may also be helpful.


Lesselroth: What is ESD doing to help promote exports?

Cole: One of the ways Global NY helps to promote exports is organizing in-state events and overseas trade missions. Foreign representatives from Canada, Mexico, Europe, Israel, South Africa, and China visit New York state each year to meet one-on-one with small businesses and speak at educational events. These events help companies understand country-specific marketing, sales and regulatory issues so that they can more efficiently enter a new foreign market. Global NY also leads four trade missions per year, typically to those countries where we have a foreign representative. The trade missions are the most significant source of export sales for New York company participants, because they are well-organized, include customized meetings and usually feature an industry trade show. Recruitment is open to all eligible small businesses across the state, and the trade missions are announced on the Global NY website and in the annual STEP grant program application. Global NY also works closely with a wide range of partners across the state to promote exports and export education, including CNYIBA and the CNY Technology Development Organization (TDO) in Central New York. Companies can find more information about our programs, services, and events on our website: ESD Global NY also has offices located across the state, with the main office in New York City. Meeting with us face-to-face is always preferred, but a business can also review the information on our website to learn more about our programs and services.                                                             

Mark Lesselroth is founder of Brenner Business Development, an international business development consultancy focused on helping SMB companies in the U.S. explore international opportunities as well as helping foreign-owned companies with market entry into the U.S. Contact him at