When it comes to international trade, one doesn’t typically think of small businesses and immigrant communities.

But the untapped potential of those two demographics is the focus of a U.S. Small Business Administration conference in Seattle on Wednesday and Thursday. The effort, in conjunction with Greater Seattle Partners, a public-private economic development corporation, the Port of Seattle and state Department of Commerce, seeks to help local Korean American businesses find new opportunities to sell back to Korea.

This is the first in-person event anywhere in the nation by the SBA to jump-start small business exports among diaspora communities. An earlier virtual event focusing on Colombia and Latin America was much smaller.

The SBA centered on Korean Americans in Seattle for a variety of reasons. This region boasts one of the largest Korean American populations in the U.S. There are many prominent Korean American political leaders here, including former City Council member Martha Choe, Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho and former Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim. More than 40,000 people in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area were born in Korea.

South Korea exported more than $4.5 billion to the Seattle region last year, mainly automotive and industrial products. In turn, we exported more than $2 billion to South Korea — primarily agriculture, aerospace and industrial machinery products.

The SBA wants to help lower export barriers for Korean American small businesses. By accessing loans and grants, Korean American businesses could translate websites or pay for trade-show visits.


Boosting exports and reducing trade barriers “would be a boon to the state, particularly at a time when we are experiencing inflation and are trying to stave off an economic slowdown,” according to SBA documents.

While only 13.2% of the U.S. population are first-generation immigrants, they represent 20.6% of all U.S. business owners. It makes sense to help them sell back to their former compatriots on e-commerce and other platforms. That can only benefit the economy for all Americans.

Setting the event in a Pacific Rim city like Seattle has clear geopolitical ramifications as well. As China threatens Taiwan and tensions mount, the strengthening of ties between the U.S. and South Korea shows another way — friendly relations that go beyond diplomacy and big business to benefit small expat retailers and entrepreneurs.

The SBA considers this week’s event to be a “down payment” on further local economic development for Seattle’s diaspora community. If successful, the dividends could create new jobs, strengthen ties between nations, and provide a bright alternative to the bleakness of conflict and fear.