Illinois is a big export state. Businessman and farmers in the Midwest state sell everything from aircraft engines to soybeans abroad. But there are more surprising items that they are selling abroad, too. How about American-made “waste paper” such as holiday wrapping with “Merry Christmas” spelled wrong? An Illinois resident has found a lucrative exporting business by selling the paper to India, said John Nevell, regional manager for international trade programs for the U.S. Small Business Administration. Another businessman has found that trusses – structural supports for attics – that he manufactures are in demand overseas.

Nevell, and other export experts, spoke Nov. 10 at the Washington Post Live forum held at the grand Hilton Hotel Chicago. In the audience where small business owners interested in started or enlarging their export business. They also heard from Tony Hoti, President of Intercom Ventures, an internet cable company that caters to immigrants willing to pay for television programming from their home country. Hoti started his company by importing into the United States -- he bought, among other programming, Polish TV content and sold it to Poles in the Midwest who were delighted to watch programs in their native language. Then Hoti realized there are Polish people in Brazil and other countries, too, so he began that TV programming to them, too. His company has grown rapidly, he said, thanks to his expanding export business, and he has hired scores of new employees.

Several businesses executives attending the forum said they saw dollar signs in broadening the base of potential customers. With billions of buyers beyond American shores, Julie Carducci, director of the Commercial Service’s Chicago Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, urged businesses to get in touch with her office if they want help and advice in selling abroad. It is a goal of the Obama Administration to increase exporting because it is a key way for companies to earn more money and hire more employees.