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19 March, 2012 - 18:06 By Tony Quested

Ohio joins States targeting the UK

Graeme Menzies

Cambridge law firm Mills & Reeve and US partner enterprise Robinson & Cole are already acting as catalysts for two-way trade growth across the Atlantic.

Their respective international representatives, Graeme Menzies and Bill Sellay, stressed at Deyton Bell’sTransatlantic Business Forum the fabulous opportunities that exist for companies which avoid the obvious pitfalls.

They can point to hard and fast examples of their effectiveness as facilitators of transatlantic trade.

Since the Forum, Menzies has received communication from economic development chiefs in Ohio opening up possible trade for Cambridge and UK businesses. Menzies was in Columbus last autumn and learns that Kenny McDonald – chief economic officer of Columbus2020, the economic development organisation for the central part of Ohio – is coming to the UK on March 26 and would be happy to meet Cambridge and other companies looking at investing in the US.

McDonald’s particular bag is foreign and direct investment (FDI) and he works with the 40 largest companies in Central Ohio. He would be happy to discuss opportunities as well as logistics issues. Menzies says: “Ohio State University alone has an $800 million annual budget to spend on R & D so this is a big potential opportunity and we would be happy to facilitate meetings.”

Interested companies can either email Graeme.Menzies [at] Mills-Reeve.com or check out the Columbus2020 website.

Menzies has been representing US VCs who are investing in UK healthcare plays and says it has proved a highly successful funding exercise.

“The US investors are fully engaged in the UK, spending 25 per cent of their time here now. They are actively considering investments in two health-related Cambridge ventures,” he says. “Two of the companies they have invested in are also actively pursuing opportunities in Cambridge as well as London.”

Mills & Reeve has a number of big-hitting clients that are already well established in the States and Menzies says interest in the US market remains strong.

“Three of my veterans’ hockey team from Cambridge went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January – CSR, ARM and Meridian – and the umpire is commercial director at IFF, which is US owned. Xaar and Dialight are there of course, and there is continued interest at the smaller level, too.

“The big change I see is the increasing interest from the States in this direction – from VCs and private equity people looking to invest in the UK and from US states looking for FDI opportunities. The contact from Ohio is a good example.”

Both Menzies and Sellay stress that a successful launch in the US is dependent to a large extent on proper due diligence being conducted beforehand, much of which can be handled from the UK. Menzies said: “There are some very useful connections to be made and relevant information to be had in the UK. Given the size of the US and the market, it is essential to focus on point of access, market sector and potential partners, much of which can also be done from here.

“Much of the legal work (employment law, corporate and tax) can also be handled from the UK and we can also connect companies interested in the US to reliable contacts anywhere in the States for legal and commercial input. This is not a substitute for getting getting boots on the ground, as Bill Sellay puts it, but is a key part of a successful and efficient launch.”

Client La Playa would certainly bear this out and confirms that the journey across the Atlantic from Cambridge was well worth undertaking.

Bill Sellay, whose US firm Robinson & Cole has Coast to Coast expertise, brought current trade opportunities into sharp focus and made an important distinction between the respective allure of China and America as target markets for UK business. He said China was buying luxury but America was buying value. Sellay said: “Luxury cars, clothes, jewellry and other outward symbols of success are what ‘foreigners’ are having huge success selling to the Chinese.

“But throughout the US, it is a value equation – measured by durability, performance, uniqueness and price – that is in demand. Belts have been tightened and budgets constrained in virtually every industry and sector in the US.

“But companies with products and services that measurably outperform the competition are enjoying enormous growth in what is otherwise the worst US economy in decades.”

Sellay, who is vastly experienced, added: “I have been involved with several UK companies that launched in the US in the eye of the storm – 2009 to 2010 – and despite this have enjoyed enormous growth in America by delivering to their customers unique skills, insights, focus, all translating to economic advantages.

“What is particularly interesting and encouraging is their success was not industry or sector specific. It was value that was a singular constant.

“Examples include food products focused on health and children, financial consulting with expertise and completely different pricing model, event planning with unique characteristics that attracted a Fortune 100 clientele, insurance products for a highly specialised market, on-line education on a completely new platform, and medical devices providing serious price and performance advantages.

“In my 20+ years of experience, there has not been a better time for Cambridge companies with expertise and products to find a welcoming audience in the US.

“SMEs with services and products that would not have been considered in more robust economic times will find a real opportunity in America right now if they can deliver value. For SMEs that can be real gamechangers, now is the time to step forward. America wants to know who you are.”

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