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On Above the Fold, we examined the 12 states that would be hit hardest by a withdrawal from NAFTA. Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a close look at one small business in each of those states that depends on NAFTA. Check back for future installments.
When Lalit Chordia left India in the 1980s to pursue a PhD at Carnegie Mellon University, he had every intention of returning home after graduation. That was 30 years ago, and he says he’s not going anywhere now.
He’s a Pittsburgh Steelers season ticket holder now, and on the board of his local children’s hospital. On Friday nights you can often find him at Donato’s, a local favorite, before catching a movie with his wife. In short, Chorida has fallen in love with Steel City. It’s also where he’s helped create more than 300 jobs through Thar Process, the company he built in his adopted home.
“I’ve seen the city grow, and I’ve grown with it,” Chordia said. “The city is bright, growing and heading in the right direction, and we’ve contributed in a small way to that.”
In the U.S., Chordia has been able to live his dream of being both a scientist and a businessman. Along the way, he’s also found something more: the ability to establish a local company with global reach. Like so many Pennsylvania-based businesses, being able to export to international markets has been an essential part of the company’s success.
Thar Process uses supercritical fluids—a simplistic term for pressurized carbon dioxide—for a number of diverse applications. The technology has been used to alter life-saving medicines to change the speed at which it gets delivered into the bloodstream. It’s also been used to extract flavors or fragrances from food, plants, and herbs.
The company now operates the largest supercritical fluid tolling facility in the U.S, something they attribute to increased trade opportunities around the world.
“The domino effect of what we are trying to do is felt much further than the walls of our company,” Chordia said. “We’ve hired local people. A lot of them have been with me for decades. And at the end of the day, it’s the people who make the company. Without them, there would be nothing here.”
Businesses in Pennsylvania exported $36.6 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with $13 billion of that sold to customers in Canada and Mexico. Small businesses make up nine out of every 10 exporters in the state, according to the Small Business Administration. Without NAFTA, the Keystone State and its small businesses would be among those that would suffer the most.
The state has 513,000 jobs that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico alone. And nearly two-fifths of Pennsylvania exports are destined for customers in Canada and Mexico, generating more than $13 billion in export revenue.
“As a company, and as a country, we shouldn't be afraid to look outside our borders for new business opportunities,” Chordia said. As much as a quarter of his company’s revenue comes from exports, which directly supports half his employees’ jobs. “It is critical that we continue our trade relationships with our partners. We need free trade agreements to have a seat at the table.”
For businesses like Thar, trade allows the company to find new customers that balance out the U.S. business cycle.
“Being able to rely on international markets protects you from the booms and busts of the U.S.,” Chordia said. “Being able to do business globally means more and better business which means jobs here in Pittsburgh.”
In his spare time, Chordia helps advise other small businesses in the region that wish to get better at exporting their products overseas. It’s just one way he is trying to keep the Pennsylvania economy strong and competitive.
Chordia has come to care deeply about Pennsylvania. That love harkens back to his days as a PhD student, when a friend from the school’s business program came to him, asking to start a company together so they could write a proposal to the National Science Foundation—a proposal that was due the next day. The two of them worked through the night and couriered their proposal, making it just in time. A few weeks later, the foundation called back, gave the partners $30,000, and their company was born.
“Fate brought me here and kept me here,” Chordia said. “It really is a place where you can come take a risk, impact lives and change the world.”
To learn more about how NAFTA and free trade agreements create jobs and growth opportunities for small businesses, go to Faces of Trade.