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WV explores options for European trade office

It won't be surprising if the state closes its European Office in Munich, Germany, and opts instead for a so-called "flexible workspace" arrangement.

West Virginia was the first state to have a fully staffed trade office in Munich when the late Gov. Cecil Underwood opened that outpost in 1999.

The office has always been in the Amerika Haus in Bavaria's capital. But as previously reported, the state and other tenants must move because the building will be renovated. Also, the office's two employees, Sven Gerzer and Holly McGinnis, have taken other jobs.

State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, who traveled to Munich earlier this month to size up the situation, came back excited that "flexible workspace" might be just what the state needs. Burdette mentioned that Regus is one company that provides such space.

According to the company's website, Regus has 1,200 centers in 550 cities and 95 countries.

Regus advertises that it offers "a big business image, without the cost," by offering office space and related services on an as-needed basis. The company says, "A Regus Virtual Office gives you a great business address to use as your own plus someone to manage your business calls and mail."

Regus customers can use the company's locations anytime. If more than a desk, phone, and Internet connection is needed on a particular day, a conference room is available for an additional fee.

Burdette likes the concept for lots of reasons:

The state currently spends about $312,000 for the German office. He thinks a flexible workspace arrangement could cost less.

Most meetings with clients and prospects already occur on the road.

Having an office when and where you need it would eliminate the impression some prospects might have that the state has a "German" office rather than an office that serves all of Europe.

An office provider with many locations and a staff that speaks multiple languages could overcome the difficulty of hiring a person who is qualified to represent the state and speaks many languages.

Asked recently if the state is preparing to issue a request for proposals from providers like Regus, Burdette said the details about exactly what the state needs are still being worked out.

Exports have become increasingly important to West Virginia's economy, setting records each of the last several years. The state's exports totaled $5.9 billion in the first half of 2012, a 31 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago.

The Netherlands, Italy and Belgium are among the state's top trading partners.

Foreign direct investment in West Virginia is significant, too. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, foreign-controlled companies employed 22,700 West Virginia workers in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available.

European companies employing West Virginians range from German chemical giant Bayer (Institute, New Martinsville) and French construction materials manufacturer Saint-Gobain/CertainTeed (Moundsville) to Italian auto parts company Allevard Sogefi (Prichard) Norway's energy company Statoil (Northern Panhandle), and Spanish auto parts maker Gestamp (South Charleston).

Reach George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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