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Erin M. Cole, the new head of the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, wants the local trade group to branch out.

Cole, a Buffalo native who grew up in West Seneca and spent the last four years working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Uzbekistan, was named Wednesday as the group’s new president and chief executive officer.

With the Buffalo Niagara region’s proximity to Canada, and its stable of manufacturers that produce products that are prime candidates for export, Cole said she hopes to position the trade group as the region’s leading resource for businesses looking for help doing business outside the United States. And that means reaching out to small business and companies outside the Buffalo Niagara region, stretching from southern Ontario to the Rochester area.

“The World Trade Center really should be the premiere trade group, not just for Buffalo, but for the entire area our charter covers, and that’s the Rochester area and southern Ontario,” she said.

“My target is not to go after the big companies,” Cole said. “My target here would definitely be the small companies – manufacturers and service companies.”

Those companies may have products that can be sold internationally but lack the know-how and the experience to navigate through the tariffs, taxes, regulations, insurance and transportation issues that exporters face. That’s where the consulting services offered by the trade center come in, Cole said. “There is a demand for it here, and there aren’t a lot of providers,” she said. “Exporting is not an easy thing, but that’s why our organization exists – to help.”

Cole, who also has worked for the State Department and the Commerce Department, takes over the top job at the Buffalo trade advocacy group three months after Christopher Johnston left his post as the organization’s president and chief executive officer after a review of the groups’ finances led to his suspension.

“My goal here is to get this organization back to a high point,” she said.

Kenneth Franasiak, the World Trade Center’s chairman, said Cole’s experience in economic development and international trade should be a benefit for companies across upstate New York and southern Ontario. Cole specializes in private sector development, with a focus on international trade and export promotion.

Cole had been based in Central Asia for the past 4½ years, managing economic development and regional trade programs for the Agency for International Development. Before that, she worked for the Commerce Department’s Export Assistance Center in Rochester from 2004 to 2008. Cole, who is fluent in Russian, also worked for the State Department in Russia, according to her Link-edIn profile. A decorated Gulf War veteran who served as a military intelligence sergeant in the U.S. Army, Cole received an executive master of public administration degree from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School in 2009. She also received a certificate of advanced securities studies from SU’s Institute of National Security and Counterterrorism. She has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University at Buffalo.

Cole also started her own small business, selling female military collectibles and was a co-founder of Veterans for Common Sense, a group that opposed the second Gulf War.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com