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International Business Development Resources

As a melting pot of people from all over the world and the home for over 117 ethnic groups speaking more than 60 languages, the City of Cleveland is globally connected and offers an ideal environment for international business operations. Cleveland is world-renown for its medical innovation especially in biomedical technology and manufacturing, technology and professional services companies from around the world have established operations in the Greater Cleveland region, where they enjoy easy access to U.S. and Canadian markets, two million talented workers with Midwest values and work ethic, financial incentive programs and supportive business communities.

The City of Cleveland, Department of Economic Development is working to further make Cleveland a prime destination for international business. The Department’s goal is to raise awareness of business opportunities in Cleveland and welcome potential investors and businesses to Cleveland. Read more about our recent international projects. 

Currently, the Department of Economic Development is reaching out to other countries, China specifically, via Sina Weibo, a Chinese micro blogging site, where our recent projects and achievements for the City of Cleveland have been highlighted in Mandarin. Sina Weibo is one of the most popular social media in China, comparable to what Twitter has established in the USA.
Important financial and technical resources for international business development in Cleveland include:

In Cleveland, we offer you a world of opportunities! International businesses can benefit from moving their operations to Cleveland in multiple ways: access to unbelievably affordable housing, well-connected infrastructure, a highly-skilled workforce, award-winning schools and universities, an exceptional quality of life, easy commutes and a fundamental ability to produce and distribute products worldwide cost-effectively.
You can leverage these assets to establish your business here and then expand into additional markets. Since almost 50% of the U.S. population and 60% of all U.S. fortune 500 headquarters are within 500 miles, the central location of Cleveland allows quick access to more than half of North America, including Canada.
To discover even more about why Cleveland is the ideal location for your international business location check out Cleveland Plus's brochure for International Business. 

SBDC Export Assistance Network

Hosted within the Global Business Center at Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business and funded by the Ohio Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the SBDC Export Assistance Network provides export assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises (under 500 employees) in Northeast Ohio and helps to promote business growth through exporting and international trade.

Free, Confidential, In-Depth, One-On-One Counseling and Low- or No-Cost Training

Among the extensive services offered at the Export Assistance Network are low to no-cost counseling and training services provided by the center’s team of Certified Global Business Professional Advisors.  This business coaching approach can provide valuable assessment of a company's readiness to begin exporting or increase a company's presence within global markets. The Center’s advisors can assist in identifying and growing a company's international trade while mitigating risk.
As a state-sponsored agency, there is no limit to how long a small to medium business can work with the Ohio SBDC Export Assistance Network.  The Ohio SBDC team can be there when you get your first international purchase order, sign a distributor contract or when your business expands to include additional foreign markets.   

Additional Services Offered

Contact: Nate Ward, CGBP, International Program Director
Phone: (216) 687-4750 

Ohio’s Export Assistance Resources

The International Market Access Grant for Exporters (IMAGE) Program
IMAGE is funded by the state of Ohio and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is designed to increase exports and create jobs. The IMAGE grant (pdf) offers financial assistance for small businesses to promote their products and services in international markets.

The grant will provide a 50 percent reimbursement up to $10,000 per fiscal year for qualifying activities to help offset Ohio small businesses' costs associated with international marketing initiatives including trade shows and missions, marketing material and website translation, and export education programs.

Eligible Activities:

  • International Tradeshow Exhibition – Including: Booth space rental, design and construction, printing cost of marketing materials for trade show, freight costs to ship booth and materials and trade show registration fees

  • Ohio Development Services Agency Approved Trade Missions – Including: Participant fees, market research & appointment setting fees, airfare, baggage fees, lodging, printing cost of marketing materials for trade mission

  • International Advertising – Including:  Cost of production and placement of advertisements in magazines, newspapers, posters, billboards, direct mail, on TV, radio and international websites

  • Website Development – Including: Website translation into foreign language, search engine optimization and localization services

  • Translation Services – Including: Marketing material translations & localizations, label, packaging & technical manual translations and printing costs

  • Training – Global Target Program at Cleveland State University

*Activities must be approved in advance

For more information Contact: Thien Bui, CGBP, Export Assistance Program Specialist
(614) 466-4996

The Branded Program (Food Export)

Offered by the Food Export Association of the Midwest, the Branded Program is a 50 percent reimbursement program designed to assist in the exportation of food and agricultural products produced in the Midwest.  Reimbursable costs include eligible marketing and promotional activities.

*Only small companies, as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration and agricultural cooperatives are eligible.

Contact: Kristopher Walton, Food Export Liason for Ohio
(312) 334-9229


Ohio Export Internship Program

Finding the time to focus on developing a new market is a challenge for many small businesses. The Ohio Export Internship Program is designed to help companies that are looking to export for the first time or to improve their current export initiatives. The program will match companies with highly motivated students who have taken export-focused coursework from Ohio universities and colleges, while providing a 50 percent reimbursement for the intern wages.

Advantages of the Program to Businesses:

  • Up to $3,600 reimbursement for intern wages
  • Trained, full-time summer interns who will focus on export development
  • A uniquely tailored scope of work with specific deliverables such as:
  • Building a company’s export readiness
  • Identifying new markets
  • Market-specific research & analysis
  • Streamlining current export processes & procedures
  • Interns are mentored and closely supervised by the Ohio Development Services Agency and Ohio Universities

Ariel International Center

Also contributing to the region’s global diversity and economic development is the Ariel International Center, a historic 68,000 square foot building overseeing Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline, which serves as a catalytic one-stop center for international business development and international events in Northeast Ohio.

Ariel Ventures LLC provides finance, tax, IT and business advisory services for over $1.25 billion in renewable energy, real estate, small business, international business and economic development projects, which include public/private finance, tax credits and other incentives. Ariel Ventures LLC and Ariel Economic Development Fund (AEDF) is also a 100% women-owned and minority-owned Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and Community Development Entity (CDE) certified by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, Department of Treasury. AEDF focuses on international business development for the region, leveraging the expertise of other international professionals and collaborating with other international business organizations in Cleveland such as international Chambers of Commerce. 

AEDF provides equity ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, and below market interest rate loans, with flexible terms, ranging from $250,000 to $1,500,000, to high impact businesses located in low-income, underserved areas in Ohio. Read more about Ariel Ventures LLC in Crain's Cleveland Business.

Contact: Radhika Reddy, MBA, MA-Tax, Partner 
Phone: 216.344.9441

Global Cleveland

Global Cleveland attracts, welcomes and connects international newcomers to economic and social opportunities in Cleveland.

  • In 2014, immigrant entrepreneurs launched 28.5% of new businesses in the United States, helping to boost new business creation nationally

  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners in Ohio had a total net income of $1.3 billion, which is 5.7 percent of all net business income in the state

  • In 2011, 19.3% of immigrants 27 years or older in the Cleveland metro area held graduate or professional degrees

  • Ohio's postsecondary education of international students has become the state's 15th largest export

Contact: Joe Cimperman, President
Phone: 216.472.3282


Port of Cleveland and the Foreign Trade Zone

The Port of Cleveland offers more than maritime services to help area companies compete in the global economy. Their services include an active Foreign-Trade Zone program to better position companies with reduced trade costs. Since 1978 the Port Authority has held a grant of license as Foreign-Trade Zone 40, an area that covers Cuyahoga County and parts of adjacent counties, and includes 23 sites covering nearly 5,900 acres. 

The U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) program was created as an incentive to encourage companies to keep investment and jobs in the United States and not move production offshore. The program removes certain costs and barriers that do not exist in foreign locations and is a designated area within the United States that is considered to be outside the stream of international commerce. Certain types of merchandise may be admitted into the zone without being subject to Customs duties or certain excise taxes.

Two Types of Foreign Trade Zones – General Purpose Zones & Subzones

  • A General Purpose Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) site is established to accommodate a number of companies and multiple activities. It is typically defined as an industrial or commercial park. Public warehouse operations also operate as General Purpose Foreign-Trade Zones.

  • A Subzone is a special purpose zone established for a single company.

Contact: David Gutheil, Vice President of Maritime & Logistics
Phone: (216) 377-1363

Cleveland International Fund

Cleveland International Fund, Ltd (CiF) is a private equity fund that operates under the US Government's EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program to connect accredited foreign investors with real estate development projects. With approximately a quarter billion USD under management, CiF uses EB-5 foreign investment capital to support Commercial Real Estate projects in the residential, mixed-use, entertainment, and health care sectors.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program provides a route for qualified individuals to receive Permanent US Green Cards if they make a capital investment into a job creating project. Licensed by the US Government, CiF is able to raise, pool together, and then lend EB-5 funds to Cleveland-area projects.  Created by the US Federal Government in 1992 and the program is intended to spur job creation here in the US. Working with expert economists and attorneys, CiF vets prospective projects for their compatibility with the requirements of the EB-5 Program.

Contact: Stephen Strnisha, CEO 

A few of Cleveland's recent downtown projects were funded with EB-5 investment including: Flats East Bank Phase 1&2 (left)—completed with $69 million of total EB-5 investment; Downtown Westin Hotel—completed with $36 million of total EB-5 investment; The Uptown Expansion Project—completed with $5 million of total EB-5 investment; and The Ninth & Euclid Project—completed with $13.5 million of total EB-5 investment.


The International Entrepreneurs (TiE)

The International Entrepreneurs focuses specifically on immigrant, international, and minority entrepreneurs within the region encouraging them to consider NEO as a place to launch their new businesses. TiE Ohio provides focused support to entrepreneurs through mentoring, networking, and business education programming.

Contact phone: 216.299.7539 or email

The International Business Network (IBN)

The mission of the International Business Network is to assist new and experienced people in their international business activities. Their goal is to stimulate economic growth in Northeast Ohio through international business by providing networking receptions, programs on pertinent and timely international business topics and hosting incoming missions. Our mission is to help you expand your international business and advise you on international business practices and opportunities.

Contact phone: 216.771.1200 or email

Cleveland's Sister Cities —Cleveland's Global Connection

Cleveland’s current Sister Cities are listed in the chart below. The Sister Cities program is designed as means for cultural exchange with a mission striving to build global cooperation at the municipal level, promoting cultural understanding and stimulating economic development.  Our Sister Cities are a reminder of the diverse backgrounds of Cleveland’s citizens and its numerous international ties.

Alexandria, Egypt

Fier, Albania

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Bahir-Dar, Ethiopia

Gdansk, Poland

Miskolc, Hungary

Bangalore, India

Heidenheim, Germany

Rouen, France

Brasov, Romania

Holon, Israel

Segundo Montes, El Salvador

Bratislava, Slovakia

Ibadan, Nigeria

Taipei City, Taiwan

Cleveland, United Kingdom

Klaipeda, Lithuania

Vicenza, Italy

Conakry, Guinea

Lima, Peru

Volgograd, Russia

West Mayo, Ireland



As the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, the City of Cleveland is looking to establish relationships that move beyond ceremonial, and instead, provide future exchange of business, culture and educational opportunity.

The Mayor’s Office determines the potential for a successful partnership between Cleveland and applicant cities based on the following:

  • Municipal Compatibility
  • The ability to develop and maintain the relationship
  • The potential to provide cultural, educational and economic initiatives that are mutually beneficial

Cities interested in establishing a formal Sister Cities International partnership with the City of Cleveland do so through the Office of Government Affairs.

Additional Business Resources
Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI)

The Economic and Community Development Institute is a non-profit economic development organization whose core programs provide training, technical assistance, and capitalization for entrepreneurs. ECDI addresses the needs of very small business owners in the creation and expansion of microenterprises. The Institute fills a gap in the credit industry by offering loans ranging from $500 to $350,000 to underserved entrepreneurs through its revolving fund program. The Institute's services are targeted toward unbanked or under banked populations, including low-income individuals, those with little or no credit, and those who are unable to receive a loan from a traditional financial institution. 
Phone:  216.912.5655