The Big Picture: The Department of Commerce

By Regina Connell.

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ”

So quipped Ronald Reagan.

It’s rare that you’ll find us quoting the Gipper, but in this case, we’ve got to admit that Reagan perfectly characterized the way many people feel about “help” from the government. (Perhaps citizens of other nations view their respective governments more positively, but I’m suspecting this is about as rare as our quoting the late president.)

And yet, we’ve found an example of how the US government has helped make a positive impact in the art world (really), and we’re not talking about the doling out of arts grants through the National Endowment for the Arts or giving approving nods to curators at the Smithsonian. No, we’re talking about direct assistance in opening markets, creating possibilities, and supporting great design at a very tactical level. We’re talking commerce, jobs, money, and not-so-filthy-lucre.

Nik's installation in Tokyo, viewed from several stories high. Photo: Sam Prest.

Earlier this summer, one of our favorite companies, Nikolas Weinstein Studios met with Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, Francisco Sanchez. At this August meeting, Nik and his team, who create stunning glass installations, were awarded an Export Achievement Certificate for the impressive amount of exports they’ve shipped to places like China, India, and Japan.

Overview of Nik's lobby installation at the Opus Hong Kong. Photo: Michael Weber Photography.

Yes, you read that right: these exports to China don’t involve fast food, Viagra, or Hollywood.

This award was actually part of a larger, longer relationship between Team Weinstein and the local branch of the US Commercial Service (nestled in the Department of Commerce) that helps facilitate exports from small businesses. It’s a relationship that’s helped yield a substantial amount of work for the studio, as 90% of the studio’s work is exported. And that means jobs have been created for people with craft skills and art degrees as well. (This is, apparently, part of a movement called “insourcing”.)

What’s the relationship between design and US trade? Stephan Crawford, the Director of the US Export Assistance Center in San Francisco, notes, “Since design is at the “front-end” of large scale projects, having US firms involved in the design phase can increase the chances of US participation downstream as a project is implemented.”

Larger companies have traditionally benefited from this kind of export assistance, but Nik, with his smarts and professionalism, and the sheer coolness and uniqueness of his work, has been able to do what most small companies have not.

Here’s how it works: By collaborating with the Commercial Service’s Export Assistance Center, a small business with something to export (we recommend taking a page from Nik and Co. and focusing on high quality/high skill products) can gain a deeper understanding of a particular marketplace, identify partners, and deal with tricky documentation and logistical challenges. On the ground in the export market, this service helps foster networking, door-opening, cultural and business guidance, and so much more.

Kudos to Nik and his team. Perhaps it’s time to rethink what government can do for you.


Nikolas Weinstein Studios








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