World Wide Abrasives
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by Wilson Bannister A freelance writer based in the limestone hill country of southern Indiana.

For the last six years, John Kirkpatrick’s company, World Wide Abrasives (WWA), has been providing art foundries across North America with a tool to finish bronze sculpture easily and effectively.  Now a grant funneled through the local Small Business Development Center may allow the company to expand into distant foreign markets.  With product sheets and order forms printed in Cyrillic alphabet and a translator at his side, Kirkpatrick may soon be seeing his products shipped to foundries in faraway Russia.

A Critical Tool 
The crosspad sander, manufactured by World Wide Abrasives in Lewiston, Idaho, is made of folded strips of sanding cloth put together at right angles to one another. The pieces form a cross and are joined by a rivet in the middle. The specialized rivet used is threaded inside allowing the cross pad to be installed on a mandrel which is then mounted in drills or high speed die grinders. 

Kirkpatrick describes cross pads as a critical tool for deburring edges and following the contour of hard-to-reach, low lying areas of soft-metal products such as cast bronze sculpture.While most effective at high speeds, up to 20,000 rpm, the usable life of the pad at this speed is from 30 to 90 seconds. Hundreds of these sanders may be used on just one life-sized bronze sculpture to smooth out welding lines and casting burrs and to buff the surface.  Nevertheless, the cross pads manufactured by World Wide Abrasives are often regarded as one of the most cost efficient tools in the art foundry industry.  In John Kirkpatrick’s words “They are a life-saver.”
A Business Resource 
World Wide Abrasives has enjoyed international sales for years, with clients in Mexico and Canada.  The jump to overseas markets, however, is a new step for the company.   It evolved out of Kirkpatrick’s work with the Small Business Development Center(SBDC) in Lewiston.
Kirkpatrick is no stranger to the benefits of the Small Business Development Center concept.  He and his wife, Jean, consulted with the SBDC in Lewiston before embarking on their new business venture over six years ago.  At the SBDC, they found people eager to help new businesses get started and an organization with the resources to implement that goal.
That relationship, in conjunction with the Port of Lewiston, has enabled WWA to find manufacturing space at a pro-rated rent to get the business up and running.  Kirkpatrick has worked closely with the SBDC since starting WWA, using many of their manufacturers association services, such as consultation, research assistance and data base access.  “They’ve been virtually my right arm,” Kirkpatrick says referring to the SBDC.
Virtually indeed, World Wide Abrasives’s overseas marketing connections are developing because of his involvement with the Idaho Virtual Incubator (IVI).  Started in 1999, this SBDC project works to bring together the resources of faculty, students and businesses throughout the state with all aspects of e-commerce–helping with “cyber” everything, from setting up a website to selling products online.
The Russian Connection 
Jill Thomas-Jorgenson is the Idaho SBDC Region II director.  She has worked with John Kirkpatrick since he and his wife first came into the SBDC offices.  She likes to tell the story of how World Wide Abrasives became interested in the Russian market.
It all started about 21/2 to 3 years ago when the Kirkpatrick was contacted by the Lewiston SBDC office about a state grant they had received for an international program.  The idea was to encourage and assist Idaho small businesses to sell products to foreign countries using the Idaho Virtual Incubator and the Internet.  It was a new program and Region II was to be the state’s model.  World Wide Abrasives seemed perfect for the program.
At the time, John Kirkpatrick was working on the WWA website at the Idaho Virtual Incubator.  After designing and posting a new form for inquiries, he immediately started getting requests for samples from outside the United States.  “We told him”, says Thomas-Jorgenson, “ to watch where the requests were coming from” so that at some point in time he might focus on a specific country.  A number of those orders came from Russia where, Kirkpatrick discovered, there are quite a few foundries.  After much discussion at the SBDC offices, it was decided that the main obstacle to selling cross pads to Russian foundries was language.  World Wide Abrasives needed a translator.
“In John’s case it all just came together,” remembers Thomas-Jorgenson.  At the annual Lewis-Clark State College international banquet, one entre was a Russian recipe.  The group from SBDC started asking who prepared the dish, all the while hoping to meet someone fluent in Russian.  Out of the 350 people attending the banquet, they found Lyuba (pronounced ‘Lu-ba’) Moses who had just moved to the area in March from Tomsk, Russia.  Thomas-Jorgenson and the other members of SBDC excitedly arranged for her to meet Kirkpatrick.

Resourcefulness Pays Off 
Crosspad at work!
With a degree in Medical Science, Lioubov (Lyuba) Moses had been the director of the Scientific Medical Library in Tomsk.  “A very, very smart lady,” Kirkpatrick says with admiration. He also points out that Lyuba is fluent with the internet and very interested in research. The business match looked good and so it began.  “It certainly wasn’t anything scientific,” Thomas-Jorgenson laughs. “We try to be really resourceful. It just sort of happened.”

Being resourceful is one of the things that SBDCs in general pride themselves on, says Thomas-Jorgenson.  Establishing long term relationships with their clients helps.  John Kirkpatrick started with SBDC, went to the Idaho Virtual Incubator and has been using manufactures association services we provide.  “He is kind of the model,” she says, but all our clients have different needs. Our approach is “not a cookie cutter approach.”

According to Thomas-Jorgenson, the international project “morphed out of working with IVI clients,”  The SBDC wanted to help Idaho businesses reach global markets and the internet has made that more possible than ever.. Whatever the client needs the SBDC tries to get it.  In World Wide Abrasive’s case it was a Russian translator, so we helped with that, she says.  “We try to remove the mystery and the overwhelming feeling when businesses start with foreign markets where customs and cultures are different.”

“My favorite saying is,” Thomas-Jorgenson says, “we’ve made this program up as we go along.  It’s just a model program to meet needs and get to our overall SBDC goal of helping small business prosper and grow.”  It’s a project always in transition.  Thomas-Jorgenson estimates they have helped 200 businesses in the last 3 ½ years with the Idaho Virtual Incubator project.

A Resource For Artists 
Thomas-Jorgenson knows that SBDC offices in other states are working on similar projects.  When her group presented their model at the ASBDC national conference last year in Nashville, Tennessee she saw many states show interest.  For this reason, Jill strongly recommends the local SBDC office as a good place for artists to begin when they want to start a studio or retail business.  Her office in Lewiston works with a number of artists, including co-ops, ‘value-added wood artisans’ and three clients that do bronzes.  They offer help with pricing, finding new markets, accounting.  Regular workshops are offered on such topics as Marketing isn’t Magic and Selling Your Goods on the Internet.”  She knows that similar courses are usually offered at SBDC offices in other states.
John Kirkpatrick is just as adamant about the value of the SBDC program.  He encourages any business with less than 50 employees, and that includes artists, to use the resources of their local SBDC.  “Why reinvent the wheel? We all have similar struggles.” he emphasizes.  “And it’s free. Our tax dollars are already spent on SBDC.  I hope they are using me as a poster child.”

Inland Seaport 
It is interesting to note that Lewiston is the state of Idaho’s oldest city and only seaport.  Located where the Snake and Clearwater Rivers meet, this seaport is farther inland than any on the West Coast.  It’s a seaport with fresh water and no tides and no seashells situated 465 miles upriver from Portland, Oregon.  The port city of Lewiston is north Idaho’s largest metropolitan area with a population of 30,000 and an ever increasing shipping trade.  The economical barge traffic was made possible by a series of eight dams and locks on the Columbia/Snake river system completed in 1975.
Named for the explorer, Meriwether Lewis, Lewiston was the state capital for a few years in the 1860's.  The city’s multi-modal distribution warehouse, the only one like it in Idaho, efficiently handles rail, barge and truck traffic.  Today, many interstate haulers find that the 50 hour trip by barge from Lewiston to Portland significantly lowers rail or highway shipping costs.  All this while no Interstate Highway goes to Lewiston, Idaho.

Submitted by the author, Charles J. Savage, for publication in Sculpture Journal magazine, October 10, 2003.