The American Connection
Sunderland is an outward-looking international city, with European export success in the automotive sector vital to the UK’s balance of payments. More surprising is the city’s close links to the US, and the fact that Sunderland is the only non-capital city to enjoy the economic stimulus offered by a friendship agreement with Washington DC.
The city’s Business Investment Team organise visits to Washington DC to win new business for Sunderland. Cllr Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council explains: “We try to do this regularly, driven by a strong desire from the business community in Sunderland who have strategic corporate plans to expand and grow in that market. Using the contacts the Business Investment Team have built up, we can help Sunderland businesses find the best way to set up in America, from the legal structure to patenting their technology and raising venture capital money.”
Key to the visits is the in-depth advice they provide. Recently one of Washington DC’s largest law firms, WilmerHale, arranged a four seminar covering all aspects of doing business and winning contracts in the US. A similar event was organised which covered how to raise venture capital cash for expansion.
Sunderland’s expanding software and technology sector is one that lends itself well to international trade. “You can open an office in California and service it from Sunderland, keeping maybe 70 per cent of the jobs in Sunderland,” says the Business Investment Team’s Tom Hurst. “A lot of Sunderland companies now have major clients in the US serviced from Sunderland.”
Sunderland-based software company SaleCycle works with online sellers to identify when a potential customer is about to leave their site and helps them win sales that would otherwise be lost. CEO and founder, Dominic Edmunds, has recently relocated to Virginia to grow the company’s US business. “The City Council supported our initial US move by including SaleCycle on a trade mission to the area, which was instrumental in deciding to set up our Americas office in Virginia,” he says. “The HQ remains in the North East of England and this is something I am incredibly proud of. The North East provides us with access to a deep talent pool. Sunderland has a young tech savvy workforce who are keen to further their careers and who are determined to seize the opportunities that the software industry provides.”
As well as the US, China is a massive target for any ambitious company, and Sunderland’s 2009 friendship agreement with Harbin in the North East of China provides an inroad for Sunderland companies.
Manufacturer Thermal Resources Management (TRM) Group and sister company MICC (Mineral Insulated Cables Company) have a 40 per cent share in a Shanghai-based joint venture, including a manufacturing plant in Hefei. Recently the Business Investment Team arranged meetings for the company in Harbin while it was scoping out opportunities in China.
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, is proud of what has been achieved. “Sunderland has an experienced team in place to help ambitious businesses that want to trade internationally or grow their overseas businesses,” he says. “Our contacts and knowledge of global markets means that Sunderland companies have a head start when it comes to exporting or setting up an overseas office. The city has a strong reputation as an international trading city, and we’re working with local firms all the time to expand our global reach.”