Fishing for customers around the world from the U.P.

Michigan State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

When Pisces Industries Ltd., an Upper Peninsula (UP) manufacturer of fish processing equipment, began operations nearly two years ago, it intended to be a player in the world market.

Pisces, just north of Escanaba in Wells, is located in an area traditionally known for Great Lakes commercial fishing. But Trevor Wastell, Pisces president, says that commercial fishing, especially on the US side of the lakes, has diminished considerably since its heyday. And although Canadian commercial fishing remains viable on the Great Lakes, Wastell knew at the outset he had to look beyond the region for business. "If we relied on Great Lakes fisheries, we'd still be three or four people strong," Wastell says. Pisces currently has a staff of 24.

Pisces exports 70 percent of its products, 10 percent to Canada. The company's fish processing machinery has been sold to Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Wastell says that business from other countries fluctuates according to the popularity of a particular fish. Pisces has provided processing machines to New Zealand for orange roughy and to South America for tilapia.

Now the company is working with Uganda through the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), a government agency that provides and guarantees credit to foreign buyers of US goods. Wastell says the agreement with Ex-IM Bank and Uganda is an example of what most European countries typically do to increase their export business. By giving a country credit instead of cash, the funding country is assured of getting the business, Wastell says.

Wastell, who comes from the United Kingdom and was previously in international sales for a British company, has a unique dual perspective on exporting. "Europeans put far greater value on exports than Americans," he says. European governments will do what they can to encourage companies to export, such as offering credits to companies and subsidizing trips to trade shows, Wastell says.

While he has kind words for Ex-IM Bank's programs, for the most part directed to big corporations, Wastell says the agency needs to expand its efforts to help more small businesses.

Pisces' major competitors are in Scandinavia and Germany, and Wastell eyes his German counterpart with some envy when it comes to the potential market in Russia. According to Wastell, Germany has made inroads in Russia by providing credit for the purchase of German machinery. "Germany is looking to the long-term future," Wastell says. When Russia becomes economically viable, consumers will be familiar and comfortable with German equipment and products, and the United States will be out in the cold, he adds.

"There's no trick to exporting," Wastell says. His watchwords are "consistency" and "commitment." Exporting can't be an afterthought, he adds, but must be a part of a company's business plan. "Too many people only look at the export market when the domestic market is down."

Kathy Cobb