Chicago, IL--America's vibrant economy of the mid 1990s has been fueled in large part by surging exports of manufactured goods, which now make up nearly 11% of our gross domestic product--up from just 7.5% a decade ago. And strong exports should continue well into the next century, with the world's economies growing at an average of 4% a year, nearly double the average rate in the 20 years ending in 1993.
Not only have engineers created the new technology that has fed the export boom, but they often carry that new technology to customers all around the globe.
Typical is 32-year-old applications engineer Sam Bloodgood of Hydraforce, a fast-growing valve manufacturer that is riding the worldwide demand for mobile hydraulics components in the brisk economies of South America, Taiwan, and Korea.
As an engineering student at Maine's Maritime Academy, Bloodgood dreamed of a career that would give him not only technical challenges but travel and adventure as well. He got that wish soon after graduation, when he took on the task of maintaining the power plants of giant oil tankers.
What was missing, though, was the idea of not only working with the latest technology but helping others adopt it in the design of better products. After getting his MBA, Bloodgood was quick to volunteer to be the point man for his new employer--Hydraforce--to open up new markets for the company overseas.
Those duties have taken him from South America to Japan to Australia. Bloodgood say it is hard to generalize about the customers in these varied regions, but he has noticed some differences. It can be tough in Latin America to find enough people with the background to adopt new technologies, such as Hydra-force's cartridge valves, used in farm machines, heavy construction equipment, and many other uses. The Japanese analyze technology carefully--asking many questions--while Koreans tend to make faster decisions on new technology.
"The biggest satisfaction of this job is seeing people design better products by applying new technology," he says.
But there are frustrations, too, like spending long hours on planes and fighting jet lag. He also must contend with language barriers. "You can be 15 minutes into a technical presentation, only to find that your customer hasn't understood anything you've said."
Luckily, Bloodgood usually can find someone who can speak English among his OEM and distributor customers. "Everyone recognizes that English is the worldwide language of technology," says the engineer. Just the same, he is trying to do his part, studying Japanese to help communicate with customers in a country that Hydraforce believes is still its biggest potential overseas market.
Such efforts have paid off for Bloodgood and Hydraforce, which is growing its foreign sales at a rate of about 20% a year. Stateside, the company is equally aggressive in trying to ease the transition of immigrant workers. The firm employs a full-time English teacher, who gives classes during work hours for Eastern European and Latin American workers.
As far as his own career is concerned, Bloodgood hopes to continue his globe-trotting work. Says the engineer: "It's true that you can accomplish a lot through computers and other electronic communications. But when it comes to building relationships with customers, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings."