- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) - At Johnsonville Sausage, turning a Sheboygan delicacy into an international brand is all about getting the little things right.

In Asian markets, the company tones down the salt in its traditional bratwurst, while in Mexico the heavy jalapeno flavor of its spicy brats is replaced by something sweeter and more complex.

And forget about the double brat. In Asia, where a conventional link could serve up to three people, the company offers a downsized brat that’s more in line with an American breakfast sausage.

“Just because people like it here, they won’t necessarily like it in another country,” said Michael Stayer-Suprick, Johnsonville’s vice president-international. “If you truly want to be successful, you have to adopt and adapt to the local culture.”

It’s a tailored approach that has led the company to double-digit annual sales growth overseas for much of the past decade, making Johnsonville one of a growing number of area businesses that are finding considerable success in foreign markets, Sheboygan Press Media (http://shebpr.es/1IHDnUN ) reported.

New figures released this month by the U.S. Department of Commerce show Sheboygan County exports grew 12.9 percent last year to a record $709 million. That marked the third-highest growth rate in the state last year among the state’s largest metro areas.

Food and machinery were the top local products sold overseas, the data showed, with food exports nearly doubling last year.

Local business leaders say the figures reflect the heightened importance of overseas markets to economic growth in Sheboygan County.

“The world is becoming a smaller place, and (local companies) know they’re not competing on a domestic stage,” said Dane Checolinksi, director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp.

Sheboygan County exports outpaced the state as a whole last year, with Wisconsin businesses exporting a record $23.4 billion of goods worldwide in 2014, a 1.4 percent increase over 2013.

The jump in Sheboygan County exports continues a decade-long trend that’s picked up steam in the years since the Great Recession. Sheboygan County exports have now grown 66.5 percent since 2005, according to the Commerce Department figures.

“It’s amazing with this small community and its reach worldwide,” Checolinski said.

Experts say exporting not only provides new avenues to growth for companies, but it can also balance out an economic downturn in a given part of the world.

In addition, doing business abroad exposes business leaders to new products and ideas, which inspire creativity and results in the creation of intellectual property.

“If you’re not exporting, I think you’re missing out on big opportunities,” said Katy Sinnott, vice president of international business development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which assists companies in doing business overseas.

Sinnott said industrial machinery continues to be Wisconsin’s top export product category, followed by medical and scientific instruments.

Going forward, Sinnott expects considerable growth in food exports, which could be a boon to Sheboygan County’s sizable food manufacturing sector.

At Johnsonville, which began exporting about 25 years ago, about 10 percent of the company’s sales now come from exports, led by Canada, Mexico and Asia.

And it’s a figure they intend to grow by developing products suited to different markets.

“We want to find the next frontier,” Stayer-Suprick said.

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Information from: Sheboygan Press Media, http://www.sheboygan-press.com

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