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Manufacturer gets trade center’s help to boost export prospects

Faced by the challenges of 2020, industrial-size electrical connector manufacturer Special Mine Services Inc., of West Frankfort, has been working with Illinois SBDC International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Director Silvia Torres Bowman to overcome adversity by exploring international markets.

Thanks to CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding, the ITC has been connecting new and existing Southern Illinois exporters one-on-one with successful industry and trade professionals from around the U.S. and the world.

Special Mine Services has been exporting to Canada for the last 20 years. Amid the pandemic, SMS recognized the value of diversifying its client base internationally but needed help to expand its reach. According to SMS International Sales Manager Marshall Girtman, over the past eight months he and his firm have benefitted greatly from ITC’s professional connections with international trade experts.

“We began working with International Trade Center Director Silvia Torres Bowman in July, and she has already connected us with a number of valuable experts and resources,” said Girtman. “Silvia has assisted us in identifying our top 10 export markets, from which we chose our top three. Silvia has also helped me greatly with market analysis and research as to what was feasible for our company. Additionally, she has assisted Special Mine Services in applying for ISTEP (Illinois State Trade and Export Promotion) program grants to equip us with financial and technical assistance to increase our exports.”

Thanks to CARES Act funds, and armed with new export knowledge and resources provided by the ITC, SMS participated for the first time as a virtual exhibitor at the Second Virtual Trade Show of The Americas. The event was held in early December, and attended by more than 500 visitors from 21 countries. It was sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce in Colombia and supported by the AMCHAMs in Peru and Ecuador.

“Our company benefitted from this virtual opportunity in a few specific ways,” Girtman said. “It provided us with experience in setting up a virtual booth, developing marketing materials, and preparing for virtual meetings with an interpreter. Also, it provided brand and company exposure to Latin American companies and organizations. It was a great experience for me and Special Mine Services. I am thankful to Silvia and all who helped us. I now look forward to exploring markets in Australia, Peru and Mexico.”

Part of the CARES Act-funded assistance the ITC has channeled to Girtman (shown) includes expert counsel from consultants such as Laurel Delaney, founder and president of Delaney has offered practical insight to Girtman based on her 25 years of exporting experience. She has also introduced him to a network of additional experts such as an international banking executive and Exim Bank (Export-Import Bank of the U.S.) to educate him on how to create a financing tool to cover receivables, as well as an expert in Incoterms, the world’s essential terms of trade for the sale of goods, published by the International Chamber of Commerce.

“CARES Act funding allows us to help clients scale and grow by way of collecting payments more efficiently from overseas customers, exporting to new markets, shipping worldwide, setting up an e-commerce site or just obtaining simple advice to get through the global pandemic,” said Delaney. “We’re delighted to work with the International Trade Center at SIUE.”

Sunnen Products Company International Sales Director Tom Dustman has more than three decades of exporting experience, and contributes to the ITC team as a consultant. CARES Act funding is leveraging Dustman’s tried and true exporting experience to proactively educate clients like Girtman. Dustman is also moderating a series of virtual exporting roundtable sessions hosted by the SBDC ITC at SIUE.

“Profitability is certainly a critical point of any business, but given the difficulties associated with this pandemic, maintaining a manufacturing business capable of expanding into export markets is even more critical,” said Dustman. “CARES Act funding is enabling us to listen to the unique needs of each client and engage in developing a customized strategy to address that client’s specific goals and needs relative to exporting from Southern Illinois to any and all parts of the world. Through Silvia, Laurel and myself, there is significant synergy to benefit Southern Illinois exporters. Without this collective experience and expertise, exporters would have to really dig through the brush in order to find their pathway.”

According to Torres Bowman, SMS is an excellent representation of the energy and deep commitment to growth that coexists among business communities in Southern Illinois.

“The CARES Act funds are making possible for us to partner with outstanding professionals like Laurel and Tom, so we can lend a hand to more small businesses located in underserved areas and being affected by the pandemic, helping them navigate the exporting process with ease and ongoing counsel and support; therefore, contributing to the current and future success of our region.”

For more information about CARES Act funding, contact the ITC by email at or phone at (618) 650-3851, or visit

For more information on Special Mine Services, Inc. visit Girtman shared about his experience as an ITC client in a video entitled, Navigating the World During COVID with ITC Help.

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