To hear Jack Rennie tell it, there's a simple reason for small business's recent awakening to the importance of international business. "You can trace it back to the mid-1980s," he said recently from the headquarters of his company, Pacer Systems, in Billerica, Mass. "The dollar went high, and whole industries populated with small companies woke up to discover they had competitors they'd never even heard of before. Interest has been building ever since."

Rennie is also chairman of the Small Business Foundation of America, which operates an export-opportunity hot line for small companies interested in exporting. "We're now getting about 7,500 calls a year," he says. "Many of the questions are pretty basic, but people are getting more sophisticated every day. Recently, we had a woman call us from Texas with 20 of the most intelligent questions we've ever been asked about foreign markets. At the end of the conversation, we inquired which foreign market she planned to enter first. She said, 'New York.' "

You can get answers to your own questions about foreign markets by dialing 800-243-7232.

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