Gurkee's in Morgantown symbolizes the future of West Virginia. Customers for its rope sandals include people living in Japan, South Korea, Romania, Tanzania and the United Kingdom.
If a company in West Virginia can sell sandals to Tanzanians, then anything is possible.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state's export council recently toasted Gurkee's and 51 other businesses that sell goods overseas. Businesses in the state set a record last year of $11.3 billion in exports. They account for a sixth of the state's economy.
Coal makes up the lion's share of those exports, with sales of $7.4 billion in 2012. Just under half of the nation's coal exports are from West Virginia.
But manufacturers set a record in sales, too.
Plastics, the state's second largest industry, hit the $1 billion export level for the second year in a row, followed by machinery ($834 million), chemicals ($426 million), aerospace components ($283 million), medical devices and products ($271 million), automotive components ($168 million), aluminum ($119 million), wood products ($90 million), electrical machinery ($75 million) and rubber products ($64 million).
Executives get it, and workers do, too. Advances in transportation and communications make it possible to sell anything anywhere any time.
The people at the Wheeling Truck Center export truck parts and the like to customers in Azerbaijan, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Mongolia, Namibia, Philippines, Uruguay, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
"We're very proud of the fact that West Virginia is a leader in increasing the amount of exports," Tomblin said.
"Last year, we increased by about 25 percent, and that was one of the top expansions of exporting across the country. It brings in a little over $11 billion in money coming back to West Virginia because of our exports."
The world is changing. Companies in West Virginia understand their future lies in places like Tanzania.