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Wisconsin Sees Rise In Exports To South Africa

Last year, companies in the state sold $140.7 million worth of products to South Africa, a 40 percent increase from 2006.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin companies are selling more and more products to South Africa.

''We are seeing increases'' in exports to African nations, said Mary Regel, director of the bureau of investment and export in the state Department of Commerce.

Regel helped lead a Great Lakes business mission to South Africa last year.

''Their economy is growing. They are looking to buy products from the U.S.,'' she said.

And the shrinking value of the U.S. dollar against foreign currencies is proving to be a boon. ''We're more competitive than we may have been in the past, '' Regel said.

Last year, the state sold $140.7 million worth of products to South Africa, a 40 percent increase from 2006. Machinery, vehicles, paper products and electrical equipment made up the products in highest demand.

Tunisia bought $35 million worth of Wisconsin products last year, up from $20 million the year before. Much of that involved grains and cereals, Regel said.

Visionary Medical Supplies, based in Madison, sells sutures and intraocular lenses to Africa for patients who have cataract or glaucoma surgery.

The products are manufactured in India. But Visionary has obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval on the sutures and approval of the European Union on the lens implants, all of which are sent to Madison for shipment to Africa and other parts of the world, said Susan Fisk, director of marketing and one of Visionary 's two employees.

Government hospitals dominate the health field in many African countries, but for the most part, they are not Visionary's target.

Instead, the company aims at private clinics. Independent clinics are starting to pop up in African nations, as they are in some Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, Fisk said.

''They are just starting to develop their business practice. That's where our niche is, '' she said.

Franklin Fueling Systems has been shipping products to Africa for more than a decade, said Jay Walsh, vice president of marketing.

The Madison company and its parent, Franklin Electric of Bluffton, Ind., have a distribution center in South Africa that serves countries in the southern part of that continent.

Franklin Fueling Systems, formerly FE Petro, makes fuel delivery systems.

Many of those components are made in Madison. They are sent to a host of countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Cameroon.

But doing business in Africa has its complications.

Picking a distributor is very difficult, Fisk said. But even before a company can sell its products in any of those countries, it has to get approval from the government there.

Registering in Morocco took a year and a half, Fisk said, with reams of paperwork going to the U.S. State Department and embassies of the other countries.

''We sent 15 pounds of material to Egypt two years ago and we still don't have any word,'' she said.

For Franklin Fueling Systems, finding the right employees can be difficult, Walsh said.

''We have training contractors that we certify to service and install the equipment. Sometimes it's challenging when we enter any new geographic region -- that specialization may not exist.''

Oil companies often step in to assist in bringing the right people together, Walsh said.

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