NH-ITRC director Dawn Wivell leaves post after 21 years

Dawn Wivell — founder and director of the New Hampshire International Trade Resource Center for the last 21 years — resigned from the post last week and said she will not be replaced.

Trade took a hit in the latest budget. The budget of the Office of International Commerce (which Wivell also directed) was cut in half last year. But international trade services will still continue, she said.

Wivell focused on her past contributions and future plans.

"It's the right time," said Wivell, who will launch her own international business development consulting firm, Firebrand International LLC. "I've been here for 21 years, I always wanted to have my own venture — I kind of have an entrepreneurial spirit — so it's a good time for me."

Wivell, who was also director of the New Hampshire Office of International Commerce, began her career with the state Department of Resources and Economic Development in 1990. She was hired to develop an international trade program for New Hampshire, the only state in the country without one at the time. On her first day on the job, Wivell says she received phone calls from about 75 companies in the state that were interested in exporting but unsure of how to go about doing so.

There was "huge demand," she said. "We were in a recession, companies really needed to look at new markets and they needed the help."

At the same time, then-U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman had the opportunity to win a $1 million economic development grant for the state, which he wanted to put toward international trade. Based on what she seen firsthand of what companies needed, Wivell wrote a grant proposal for an international trade resource center that would house all the necessary resources under one roof. The goal was to "get everybody into one house — one phone number, one location, so everybody is working together, whether federal, state, private, nonprofit."

She won the grant, and under her guidance, the International Trade Resource Center grew to house the N.H. Office of International Commerce, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the international training arm of the Small Business Development Center, and the New Hampshire International Trade Association.

"What it meant for the companies is all the resources are there, and everyone is cross-trained so they'll make sure you get what you need," said Wivell, who as director of the ITRC was responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring all the international trade-related programs in the state.

As the first to co-locate resources under one roof, New Hampshire's international trade program became a model for other states; Wivell estimates about nine states came to shadow the NH-ITRC to "figure out how they all worked together."

In the two decades since its inception, the state's international trade program has taken New Hampshire companies to 30 countries around the world and has welcomed at least 150 foreign delegations to the state, said Wivell. Before the center was launched, New Hampshire exports were under $1 billion; now, they amount to about $4.5 billion. And in 2010, New Hampshire exports increased 43 percent, the highest percentage increase in the nation.

"It's been such a wonderful couple of decades," said Wivell. "I've made some really good friends, become very close with the companies and organizations and institutions around the state, I've created an enormous network around the world — it's been really overwhelming, in a great way."

Leanne Spees, the center's international trade officer, will remain on full-time, and Ellie White, the center's international training manager, will continue to hold seminars for companies in the state on a contractual basis, said Wivell. Additionally, Justin Oslowski and Taylor Little from the U.S. Department of Commerce will continue to work with the trade center on a daily basis, she said.

A California native, Wivell will remain living in New Hampshire. She will also remain on the board of the New Hampshire International Trade Association and on the Granite State District Export Council.

"I'm very much going to stay involved. It's very important to me that the companies in the state continue to be successful," said Wivell, who has received hundreds of phone calls of gratitude for her help over the years, some from as far away as South Africa, Ireland and England.

"It's just so wonderful to see how supportive and encouraging and kind people are. It sort of underscores the feeling that it's an opportune time to do this."

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