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Little Companies, Big Exports

Tiny Ohio-based Vita-Mix Corp. has been grinding and blending for 70 years. It rarely sold its high-powered blenders outside the U.S., relying instead on Americans' appetites for fresh-baked bread and vegetarian delights. But last year, with stagnation haunting the Midwest, the third generation of Barnard family owners went global. They hired James L. Smith, a Combustion Engineering veteran, as international sales manager. Now, exports account for 20% of the company's $15 million a year in sales, and blenders are leaving the company's plant for 20 countries. Faxes from Venezuela to Norway pour in.

Vita-Mix's good fortune also shines on Olmsted Falls, a quaint town of 15,000 on the outskirts of Cleveland. While the region has hemorrhaged jobs, Vita-Mix has added 63 new ones in the past year, for a total of 113 employees. Its folksy headquarters is bustling as banks of telephone operators take 800-number calls from customers seven days a week. "Exporting is the salvation for our standard of living and the security of our workers," says Smith. "It makes me proud as heck."