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‘No longer a backyard market’

How Karolina Dehnhard opens overseas opportunities for US and Polish businesses

In 2018, Sabina Klimek’s diplomatic appointment as the consul of the Polish Embassy’s trade and investment section came to an end. She had spent the four years connecting Polish business owners with people and processes they needed to expand into the U.S., and with no replacement appointed, friend and attorney Karolina Dehnhard knew there would be a gap in service for businesses looking to expand from one country to another.

Karolina Denhard, chair, Matrimonial practice, Norris McLaughlin PA; co-founder, Polish American Chamber of Commerce North East. - NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN PA

Dehnhard

Together they founded the Polish American Chamber of Commerce, North-East, to introduce Polish companies to the American market and make inroads into the nation’s market to foster the growth of international business opportunities.

Dehnhard, a matrimonial and family law attorney at Norris McLaughlin PA, developed an international business focus as her matrimonial practice grew. That came out of personal experience, when during her own divorce a decade ago, her attorney at the time suggested she give law a shot. That was in July, and she started law school in January. Ten years later, she chairs the matrimonial practice at Norris McLaughlin.

Her book of business grew with Polish-speaking clients because she, too, speaks the language—she moved here from Poland with her mother at age seven—and they turned to her for legal counsel beyond divorce. The clients had similar stories: they’d moved to the U.S. for work and built their lives and families here, growing their businesses into the fabric of local community, but they retained customers, business dealings, real estate and other aspects of life in Poland as well.

“There’s so much more we’re doing beyond family matters. We’re dealing with property in Poland, and dealing with relocation,” she said. “I learned that there are funds available for start-ups [in Poland], and I started thinking outside the box of how I could help people benefit from being there [and how to] help women back on their feet after a transition.

Moving overseas

For businesses interested in expanding to Poland, she said, “the real estate is cheaper, the labor is cheaper, and what better promotion for your gadget or tchotchke service than that you’re global? We’re no longer a backyard market.”

Dehnhard is hosting a Think Global, Connect Local panel at the Leading Women Entrepreneurs Force For Change event in Newark on Nov. 14. For a business owner seeking to jump over the pond, or at least form a business relationship overseas, her panel provides everything: Alexandria Kolodko, the owner of Brooklyn Imports, brings Eastern European products wholesale to U.S. retailers. DOMA Export President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Nightingale could help bring a local product oversees.

Sabtain Ali, CEO and founder of Park Slope Solutions, can speak about sought-after technology in Poland and why an American tech company would want to set up a location there. Norris McLaughlin partner Raymond Lahoud, who focuses on immigration, will provide the ins and outs of working visas in the U.S. for Polish businesses who want to bring some of their own workers to the States.

Caroline Gosselin, founder and chief executive, The Gosselin Group at Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty.

Gosselin

Caroline Gosselin, founder and chief executive of The Gosselin Group at Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, can offer insight into buying real estate, whether in the U.S. for a Polish businessperson looking to set up shop here or abroad for a U.S. executive exploring another country. Mortgage banker Jimmy Joseph of Apex Loans can discuss financing a cross-border move or expansion, and Przemyslaw Chomicz-Grabowski can help get them there—his company, Prime Meridian Moving, specializes in long-distance relocations, including international moves, offering supervision from door-to-door, through ports and all.

Dehnhard’s goal for the panel is to get local businesswomen to explore overseas expansion, or for those with a global presence to connect with the people in the room. The panelists are exactly who they’d need to be talking to.

“For example, if a tech company wanted to have some workforce in Warsaw because it’s cheaper labor for the tech guys to set up and build websites there, I’m in the position to connect them with a contact in Warsaw, to find the space and workers, to apply for the funds from the EU to give them start-up dollars to expand business over there,” Dehnhard said. “Poland is very interested in having the American market invest in Poland, and [people are] interested in bringing the Polish market here.”

American beauty lines, in particular, are popular with Polish consumers, she said, highlighting the sector as prime for expansion from the U.S. Poland’s tech sector is growing, she added, which would make it a prime international location for a company to set up a tech center or call center where the real estate and labor cost less.

A close relationship

Current political affairs make this a great time to extend business from the U.S. to Poland and vice versa, she said.

“[Polish] President [Andrzej] Duda and President Trump have a very unified relationship. Poland is seen as an extreme ally,” Dehnhard said.

As of early November, Poland is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows Polish nationals to travel to the United States without visas, a privilege the U.S. Department of Homeland Security characterized as a testament to the two countries’ “special relationship.”

Poland is the 39th country covered by the program.

“Now for someone who wants to come test the market, visit, look at real estate, and have meetings, they just buy a plane ticket and come,” she said. “When I came here when I was seven, we were denied several times. Up until now, anyone who wanted to come here had to have someone [from America] send an affidavit of support that they would then bring to their American Embassy in their city to show that they’re not just coming to work here and leave the country. We’ve been advocating for the visas to be waived, and it finally happened.

“Free travel leads to better trade,” she said.

Dehnhard’s Think Global, Connect Local panel is the first panel on global business opportunities at an LWE event.

“I’m excited to start planting seeds to international business relationships, and to be a conduit for how it happens,” she said.

Though her panel is Polish-centric, her hopes to stoke international business relationships isn’t Polish-exclusive. She recently spoke to diplomats at the EU Economic Forum who she said were “very excited about women entrepreneurs,” but said that not only do women business owners not have to limit their business goals to the U.S., they don’t need to limit their business goals to Poland either.

“Why should our women be limited? We can do this anywhere. The world is our oyster right now. It’s available,” she said.

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Gabrielle Saulsbery
Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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