Taking Door County Products to the World

by Jim Schuessler, Executive Director, Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC)

FoxFury Lighting Solutions is a 16-year-old, family owned company headquartered in the coastal, northern outskirts of San Diego. Founded to solve a particularly Californian problem – developing a specialized light to allow night surfing on crowded beaches – its mission has evolved to tackle larger global challenges. Today FoxFury exports cutting-edge Xtremium headlamp products to China, Japan and other countries around the world, helping fire and rescue officials respond to major global humanitarian disasters from earthquakes in Fukushima and Italy to hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas.

FoxFury’s shift from a domestically focused company to a global exporter is an evolution that is still relatively uncommon among U.S. firms. Closing this gap has been an increasing focus for local economic-development leaders in cities around the country, including in San Diego, where FoxFury accelerated its exporting activity through a grant competition and support program administered by the World Trade Center San Diego, an affiliate of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

So what, might you ask, does that have to do with Door County?

As discussed in this space a few months ago, DCEDC – in coordination with the County of Door and the Small Business Development Center – has been developing an export program with Door County’s sister city in Jingdezhen, China. 

Jingdezhen is in northeastern Jiangxi Province, bordering Anhui to the north and with a total population of 1.5 million. Known as the Porcelain Capital, Jingdezhen has been producing pottery for 1,700 years. The city, in fact, has a well-documented history that stretches back more than two millennia.

We hope these efforts will be financed in part through a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which was formed in the aftermath of the Great Recession in recognition of the fact that exports matter: They diversify markets, strengthen firms and regional economies, and grow well-paying jobs. 

Considering that the just-announced new CEO of WEDC previously served as an executive for Organic Valley, the Door County product pipeline – much of it developed with sustainability in mind – should be well received. 

DCEDC would administer the proposed export project that will allow up to six businesses to apply for grant funds that will focus on allowing Door County businesses to export to China. Through the open door of a sister city, we may be able to help pave the way for more Door County-manufactured products to enter this part of the world. Once successful, those products can expand, and through this template, new Door County products may also be introduced. 

But there will be headwinds. The export narrative has become more complicated as tariffs and trade wars have created instability in global markets. A stronger U.S. economy means greater domestic growth potential, and though exporting has real and substantial benefits, not every local company is ready to “go global.” 

With these facts in mind, our plans may need to evolve to reflect these realities, carefully building pipelines of suitable firms, offering tailored services and guidance, and equipping companies to navigate these headwinds and grow and strengthen through global engagement.

DCEDC appreciates the leadership on this initiative of Ken Pabich, Door County administrator; and Laura Vlies Wotachek, District 9 supervisor for Door County and a member of the ad hoc sister city informal advisory group.

We’ll keep you informed about progress on this opportunity to help more companies share Door County products with the world.

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