Elizabethtown College students have become a new resource for midstate companies that want to expand their opportunities in the global marketplace.
In May, 20 international business program students at the Lancaster County college wrapped up a project to research business opportunities and markets for five companies, said Hossein Varamini, a business professor and the program's director. With the program's success, he said, Elizabethtown College plans next year to continue the project, a joint effort with the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center in Harrisburg.
The companies were impressed with the students' ability to apply classroom knowledge on international business to real-world problems, Varamini said, citing surveys that companies returned following the projects.
"They were very positive," he said. "They thought the students did a good job in their projects."
Participating companies included video technology firm Z-Band Inc. and industrial electronics manufacturer Automation Systems Interconnect Inc., both of Cumberland County; Lebanon County-based medical supply manufacturer C.L. Sturkey Inc.; Adams County-based animal nutrition company Zeigler Bros. Inc.; and Berks County-based cast aluminum manufacturer Trega Corp.
Executives said the program is a good way for companies to expand their horizons as well as teach students who will be tomorrow's business leaders.
Zeigler Bros. has been working in the animal feed and nutrition business since the 1930s, but in the '70s the company transitioned to research and manufacturing for aquaculture — fish farms — and food for exotic fish. The company has most of its manufacturing in Gardners and East Berlin, but it also licenses other factories to produce its products, said Chris Stock, global brand manager for Zeigler Bros.
"We're a pretty international-oriented company," he said. "We've been exporting for years. Any given year, we sell in 40 or 50 countries."
However, due to the short lifespan of aquaculture as an export industry in developing countries, the company is always looking to expand its markets, he said. That's why it set its sights on Africa, he said.
In many parts of the world, aquaculture provides a more efficient protein source than does land-based livestock, Stock said.
"Africa is an up-and-coming market. Shrimp and fish farming tend to take place in developing nations," Stock said. "But it's a big place, and we didn't know where to begin."
Elizabethtown College's students found the best countries in Africa for Zeigler's products and identified political, economic and social issues that might be a challenge to doing business there, he said. The students also created a set of contacts in those markets that would best assist Zeigler Bros.
"We're turning over rocks and looking for opportunities," Stock said. "The students and their research helped us in that regard."
Other countries offer opportunities for midstate companies in technology fields because of rapidly expanding middle classes. These transitioning economies became the focus of student research for Carlisle-based Z-Band. The company engineers, manufactures and installs electronics for large-scale commercial video systems in hotels, hospitals and military bases.
Hospital construction and renovation is one of Z-Band's best opportunities in the U.S., Executive Vice President Richard Snyder said. Considering the domestic success, Z-Band wanted to look at places such as India and Brazil, where the growing middle class and technology sectors are creating a potential for their products and services, he said.
"This is information that would be very difficult for us to do, for us to research and find these contacts," Snyder said.
Elizabethtown College's students demonstrated that India's middle-class suburbs are becoming more like those in the U.S., at least in terms of the relative affluence of residents and sophistication of hospitals there. Multiple health care companies in India are planning nationwide expansions that could be opportunity for Z-Band to outfit the hospitals with the same TV systems you would find at midstate hospitals, Snyder said.
"It lays groundwork for me if Z-Band starts moving into the international markets," he said.
Like with the other companies, the students gave Z-Band contacts at company and government offices in India and Brazil that could be helpful, he said.
"To look at the 30,000-foot view is one thing, but to get down to giving me a telephone number for someone in India is incredible," Snyder said. "That's where the rubber meets the road."