In 1999, President Bill Clinton [D] named James Wilfong the Small Business Administration’s Assistant Administrator for International Trade, where he remained until 2001. This appointment highlighted a career of diversity with remarkable vitality and scope. Beginning as a small business entrepreneur in the ski industry in the early 1970’s, Wilfong has devoted more than 35 years to business development and public service in the areas of government, international trade, finance, marketing, small business management, entrepreneurship, education, public policy and community organizing.
Having served in the US Military, Wilfong continued to work for his community when he was twice elected to the Maine House of Representatives from 1974 to 1978. He was appointed to the Natural Resource, Agriculture and Performance Audit committees as well as Maine’s Special Commission on Forest Resources. In addition to his work in the Legislature, Wilfong’s public service record includes helping to coordinate U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie’s 1976 re-election campaign, chairing the Maine Advisory Council of the Small Business Administration (SBA), membership on Governor Angus King’s [I] Advisory Council on International Trade, and serving on the Commission on Maine’s Future during the administration of Gov. John McKernan [R].
Returning to the private sector after his legislative service, Wilfong resumed his career in the ski industry. He helped to found the North American operations of Atomic Ski Austria as its Director of Marketing and Sales, driving the company towards a second place market share position in the worldwide winter sports industry. He was the Strategic Marketing Consultant to two leading winter sports companies: Sport Obermeyer and The Northface. In 1992, Wilfong founded TradeNex, an export management company that assisted small businesses to distribute and market products internationally, most notably Volant Ski Corporation.
Following his appointment in 1999 as Assistant Administrator for International Trade at the SBA, Wilfong developed and promoted small business trade with the goal of creating more vibrant, prosperous and peaceful communities throughout the world. He oversaw the agency’s Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) trade policy and supervised various educational, technical assistance, risk management and finance programs. Wilfong created the successful SBA trade finance program, Export Express, and advanced innovative policies designed to assist U.S. small businesses seeking to enter the international marketplace. He worked to enhance the voice of small business in the development of U.S. foreign policy both by serving as Vice Chair of the Small Business Working Group of the Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and as a member of the National Security Council’s Subcommittee on Africa. He helped coordinate the work of U. S. Bi-National Commissions, specifically in Russia, Egypt and South Africa.
While in that position, Wilfong addressed the Russian Duma on the role of entrepreneurial and small business development in the creation of free market economies. He was a member of the U. S. delegations to the World Trade Organization’s Seattle Conference and the OECD Bologna Conference where Wilfong represented and testified on behalf of small business interests. He has also testified before the U. S. Congress, the World Bank, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Exim) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Following his work at the SBA, Wilfong returned once again to the private sector and continued to pursue his public service philosophy: that citizenship demands involvement. In 2004, Wilfong was asked by Maine Governor John Baldacci [D] to join the Citizens Trade Policy Commission. In 2005 and 2006, Wilfong was appointed by the Bush Administration to the National Advisory Council of Exim. Governor Baldacci once again called on Wilfong to serve the people of Maine as the citizen representative on the State’s Groundwater Task Force Committee, chartered to review Maine’s groundwater policies. As a result of the recommendations from the Groundwater Task Force, new groundwater legislation inspired by Wilfong was enacted by the 123rd Maine Legislature. This “landmark legislation” [Governor Baldacci} established a State Watershed Committee on which Wilfong presently serves.
Wilfong has served as Senior Vice President for International and Public Affairs of eScout (now Perfect Commerce, LLC), a large global network of buyers, suppliers, and commerce providers that share knowledge and execute transactions via the Internet. Wilfong was the Vice President of Schooner Capital, the Boston based venture capital company. For 3 years he served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, the nation’s leading non-profit dedicated to increasing entrepreneurship and small business development.
Wilfong coauthored Taking Your Business Global: Your Small Business Guide to Successful International Trade, published by Career Press in 1997. In 2004, he worked with Kris Sweden to create The Integrated Economic Opportunity Model©, a new approach to economic development that aids small business formation by placing people and ideas at the center of an integrated framework of legal, educational, fiscal and entrepreneurial prerequisites. He also authored Calculated Risk©, a college-level entrepreneurial and small business educational curriculum. In 2006 and 2007, Wilfong wrote essays on the state of groundwater issues in Maine.
Wilfong’s public speaking activities have taken him throughout the United States as well as to five continents, where he has delivered speeches on economic development in Bulgaria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, France, Italy, Japan, México, Nigeria, Russia, and South Africa. Wilfong gave the keynote address for the Maine Governor’s Conference on Small Business. In September, 2006, Wilfong gave the keynote speech for the convocation at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York on groundwater resource management. He has lectured on the groundwater subject at the University of New Hampshire, the University of Maine and before the Maine Association of Land Trusts. As a result of his leadership on Maine’s groundwater issues, the (Maine) Congress of Lakes Associations (COLA) invited Wilfong to deliver the keynote address at their annual meeting. In November, 2006, he returned to Hartwick to give a series of lectures on the effects of government interventions on free markets. At the University of Southern Maine (USM) Executive Business Forum in 2007, Wilfong spoke to the need for increased entrepreneurship and SME trade to ensure Maine’s economic future. He has also testified before the U. S. Congress on various occasions about international trade, small business development, international trade finance and most recently on freshwater resource protection.
In 2004, Wilfong was given the SBA’s Small Business Advocate for Veterans award for Maine. He designed a national veteran’s business-planning educational program in partnership with the National Veterans Business Development Corporation, Gateway Computers and the Kauffman Foundation.
Currently, Wilfong is Chairman of the Board and co-founder of a new software engineering firm, Innovative Applied Sciences and operates his own consulting and educational company. Wilfong is a founder, organizer and Executive Director of H2O for ME, a citizen’s environmental group active in water resource issues. He is a member of the board of directors and is treasurer of the Small Business Exporters Association in Washington, DC. Wilfong also served as a member of the Entrepreneurs Advisory Council of the NxLevel Foundation. He is a member of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council and its Committee on International Trade. He is also a member of VET-force, an advocacy group promoting veteran-owned businesses. VET-force recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Defense Materials Organization of Australia to facilitate veteran-to-veteran SME business development, and the group is now working to develop similar MOUs with defense agencies in Canada and Denmark. Wilfong is a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, an organization dedicated to the protection of the Kezar Lake Watershed. Wilfong chaired the regional school re-organization and consolidation committee in Western Maine in 2007-08.
As the Senior Entrepreneur at University of Southern Maine’s Center for Entrepreneurship, he teaches SME and small farm business planning, marketing, finance and international trade education. In 2008, he worked to establish the Center for Entrepreneurship at Fryeburg Academy, his alma mater, in partnership with USM.
The product of a rural farm, a one-room schoolhouse and Fryeburg Academy, Wilfong lives in the small town of Stow in the western Maine mountains with his wife, Valerie, a teacher in the local school district. Their daughter, Liza, is an active member of the arts community in Maine and will graduate with a BFA in the spring. Christian, a recent film school graduate, is working in the television industry in New York City. The family currently owns and operates the Wilfong Family (American) Tree Farm.