Category: International

Afton Scientific

Afton Scientific

Afton Scientific expands international foothold with SBDC as a guide

Expanded business to two international markets, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

With an established business, high-quality products, and sound processes, Charlottesville-based pharmaceutical contract manufacturer Afton Scientific, a 30-year-old business, was primed for growth.

Afton Scientific was seeking information on expanding their existing export efforts in the international pharmaceutical marketplace. Specifically, they wanted to develop a plan to gain a greater footing in traditional direct sales to customers as well a tap into and maximize e-commerce sales. Marketing Sales Manager Katherine Brandt and Business Development Specialist TJ Kliefoth turned to the Virginia SBDC Network where they connected with Senior International Trade Specialist Dulce Zahniser and the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development (IBD) office.

Afton Scientific had long excelled as a manufacturer of pre-sterilized vials and small-batch filling of pharmaceutical products but faced a different set of challenges in expanding their export target market. The SBDC’s IBD programming is tailor-made for businesses like Afton, providing training, resources, and contacts for everything from distribution to region and industry-specific regulations.

“The SBDC initiated a three-part IBD program for us,” Katherine says. “We needed assistance with market research and export regulations.”

That program included participating in the International E-Commerce Program/Accelerator, Trade Compliance Cohort, and International Business Plan Cohort.

“During that program, the SBDC gave specific feedback,” TJ notes. “For example, the E-Commerce Program showed us how to move our inbound marketing strategy to a more strategic outbound marketing with websites in target market areas.”

Following that advice, Afton established websites in Germany and the United Kingdom, which lead to an increase in Afton’s presence in those two international markets.

“These websites helped us reach potential new customers,” TJ says. “The SBDC’s advice definitely paid off for us.”

The International Business Plan Cohort offered additional guidance and mapped out specific steps, goals, and metrics for the expansion.

“Our marketing strategies have been very reactive in the past and this helped us become more proactive,” TJ notes. “Walking through the business plan process with experts was very helpful.”

Afton also took advantage of the IBD’s International Trade Research to explore target markets. This was especially crucial for Afton, whose industry includes an array of highly-specific consumer needs and heavy regulations that vary by country and region.

“We’re not a typical retailer,” Katherine relates. “Our target customers range from small biotechs to large pharmaceutical companies, research labs, hospitals, and universities.”

The IBD Program’s market research helped find those international customers. Employment numbers at Afton Scientific have increased from 50 to 85, which has helped the business meet the increased demand from the international expansion.

“Dulce has been phenomenal and is always there when we need advice,” Katherine says.

“We love working with the SBDC,” TJ adds. “We had heard about the SBDC but had no idea they offered so many programs at no cost. We’re so glad they found us!”

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SBDC helps manufacturer reach new heights

Assisted with international sales expansion; awarded $30,000 in Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) funding.

Dhiyohouse Inc.

Dhiyohouse manufactures and refurbishes conveyor belts for the mining sector. Looking for resources to expand overseas, Dhiyohouse contacted the Small Business Administration (SBA) in July 2021. The SBA Office of International Trade mentioned the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) and referred Dhiyohouse to the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development Program (IBD) for one-on-one assistance and connections to additional support organizations in Virginia.

In the ensuing meeting, the IBD team learned that Dhiyohouse had significant interest in multiple foreign markets but had not taken advantage of government trade resources.

The IBD team launched an extensive research effort on behalf of Dhiyohouse to identify the ideal global markets for expansion. Through that project, the IBD team and its student researchers narrowed the number of countries down to a small group of high potential markets.

Dhiyohouse project manager Robert Leonard credits the SBDC for supporting the company’s international growth: “If you follow the SBDC’s model, it’ll produce international revenue and grow your business. Just follow the model! The SBDC team will give you the research and provide you the resources for success.”

In addition to market research, the IBD introduced Dhiyohouse to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), which invited them to participate in a spring 2022 trade mission to Peru and Chile. During that mission, Dhiyohouse identified over half a dozen potential partners. To date, VEDP has provided $30,000 in grants to Dhiyohouse to support their trade program. The IBD team also connected Dhiyohouse with the U.S. Commercial Service for assistance vetting interested foreign buyers.

The SBDC’s IBD program has been an ongoing resource to Dhiyohouse by providing specific assistance on growing international sales and recommending translation companies to internationalize its website.

Dhiyohouse has enrolled in the Virginia SBDC’s inaugural cohort of the International Business Plan program, in which companies learn how to develop a sound, bankable export strategy.

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Winchester Ciderworks

Winchester Ciderworks

Winchester Ciderworks expands distribution footprint with counsel from the SBDC

Grew sales by 30% in 2022; created 12 jobs; received a $500 advertising grant.

A native of Suffolk, England, Stephen Schuurman began crafting his English-style ciders after moving next door to an apple orchard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In 2011, he partnered with that orchard’s owner to open Winchester Ciderworks.

Stephen sold his first dry hard ciders through self-distribution in Frederick County. Over time, his business has grown in tandem with Virginia’s booming craft beverage industry.

“We’re bringing a bit of England to Virginia,” Stephen explains. “My plan is to build us up to be a big cider player in the Mid-Atlantic.”

As Stephen worked to scale up Winchester Ciderworks, he found two key advisors in Laurel Ridge SBDC Executive Director Christine Kriz and Chris Van Orden, Manager for the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program (IBD) and Craft Beverage Assistance Program (CBA), with whom he connected in 2017.

“I met them, and I came out feeling like, Wow, there is help out there,” Stephen says. “I felt I was going against a brick wall all the time, and then all of the sudden there was this resource for me, and it was free, which was amazing.”

Christine and Chris have been instrumental in helping Stephen expand his business with advice when he found he was struggling with certain decision making. As his main accountability partner, Christine advises him on business planning and funding for expansion, keeping him informed about grant opportunities, including a $500 advertising grant he was awarded in 2021. Chris supports Stephen with distribution and meets with him monthly to help figure out how to approach new distributors and navigate alcohol licensing. Chris also connected Stephen with a compliance officer.

“I couldn’t have asked for two better people,” Stephen notes. “I’m really lucky. If I don’t know something, I will ask somebody, and, nine times out of ten, I can ask one of those two people.”

When Stephen launched Winchester Ciderworks, there were only about five cideries in Virginia. Now there are many. In the past year, Winchester Ciderworks has gone through a number of changes, the most significant being that Stephen took on a larger share of ownership after buying out his business partner. Now, he has big goals for the future.

“I’d like to be the number one premium cider in the mid-Atlantic with distribution to every state,” says Stephen, “and exporting to the U.K.”

Stephen is currently selling ciders in 11 states with online ordering available in 40 states, and he is working with Chris to navigate the complicated process of exporting cider to the U.K.

“The bigger the distribution footprint, the more money you have coming in,” Stephen says, “In this year since I’ve been running the business, our profits have been better than any other year.”

In fact, sales have grown by 30%! Christine is helping Stephen look for a new property in the Winchester/Frederick County area so he can expand his operation to meet the increasing demand. Stephen now employs 12 people and plans to invest in his own canning line. The SBDC will be by his side as he pivots to grow his business even more.

“There are so many obstacles to overcome,” says Stephen. “Nobody can do it without help. Everybody in business needs help at some point. The SBDC is a resource, which, for most small businesses, is critical.”

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Delany Products

SBDC networking connects Delany Products to future success

Received COVID financial assistance; featured in Virginia Business.

Delany Products, a plumbing products manufacturer since 1879, needed a makeover. “We had multiple issues as we entered the 2000s,” Scott Delany says of his company. “We had not adapted well to globalization, and as a result our business had started to dwindle.”

Adding to Scott’s problems, the price of copper, a major component of plumbing products, rose dramatically. “We started to lose money hand over fist,” Scott continues. “We closed our foundry and laid off three quarters of our workforce. It became obvious that the only path forward was restructuring.” That restructure involved a complete shift from manufacturing to outsourcing.

“Currently, Delany Products does research and design in house and depends on outside suppliers to make product components,” Scott explains. “We still do 100 percent of the assembly and final operational testing.”

The company was moving ahead with its outsourcing model; then COVID hit. Fortunately for Delany Products, when the pandemic arrived, so did the Central Virginia SBDC. “When the pandemic struck, Rebecca Haydock at the SBDC called to see if she could help,” Scott recalls. “We immediately said — ‘sounds great!’”

The Central Virginia SBDC Center Director put the Delany team in touch with a marketing firm to assist with the launch of its new product, TruStop, a patented innovation that reduces maintenance costs for institutional toilets. “The Fellows Group, now our marketing firm, did a complete update of our website,” Scott says.

In addition to the marketing assistance, Rebecca connected Scott with Aaron Miller, the Virginia SBDC’s Director of International Business Development. “Aaron had students from George Mason University do a study of potential markets,” Scott says. “We’ll explore those markets once we build our sales for TruStop in the United States. We really believe TruStop will be a game changer for us.”

Rebecca also offered help with applications for COVID assistance. “We applied for everything we could to keep us afloat during the pandemic,” Scott notes. “Rebecca helped us through all the confusion. Additionally, she put us in touch with Lisa Wood at the Procurement Technical Assistance Center who’s trying to locate government contracts for us.”

With a restructured business model in place and a new product on the market, Scott is hopeful about the future. “Right now, our backlog list is huge because of supply-chain issues,” he comments. “Once that clears up, things will change. Business is already better than last year.”

Scott says Rebecca and the SBDC team were at the right place at the right time to make things happen for his company. “The SBDC helped us out at a very critical time during the pandemic,” Scott concludes. “Rebecca Haydock and the SBDC are a great resource.”

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Wall-Lift Inc.

Wall-Lift Inc.

Innovation leads to international business for Wall-Lift

Achieved more than 100% growth in domestic and international sales

When Mark Helmuth first invented the Wall-Lift in 2005, it was purely out of necessity. As a contractor, he needed a safer and more efficient way to raise walls, so he built a device to do the heavy lifting for him and his crew, literally.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” Mark says. “I had a need to set walls, and the methods that were out there didn’t quite meet my specs. I thought about it, went out and got the components, and within a week and a half I had it all together. On the first job, it worked great.”

That first use quickly turned into dozens. After his fellow contractors saw the machine in action, requests to build more began to filter in. At the urging of a friend in 2016, Mark filed for a patent and began exploring the process of setting up Wall-Lift as a business. His banker referred him to the SBDC center in the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham area where Allison Dugan’s team helped Mark establish Wall-Lift Inc.

“The SBDC walked me through a lot of things,” Mark says. “I took a lot of the courses they offered, they hooked me up with some shipping guys, and they helped me put together some brochures and marketing,” he adds. He also participated in the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) to learn about customer discovery and how to match your product to your customers’ needs.

But Mark’s partnership with the SBDC didn’t end there. This past spring, Mark discovered a video of his Wall-Lift posted by what Mark wrote on Instagram, was “an icon of the framing world.” The SBDC was there to help Mark double down on the power of viral marketing in this unique situation.

That video, which has since generated nearly 400,000 views, led to an exponential increase in orders for Wall-Lift almost overnight. Mark has nearly doubled sales from last year already and, with help from the Virginia SBDC Network’s International Business Development Director Aaron Miller, he has shipped as far as Australia, England, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution channels the SBDC helped him establish have paid dividends during that growth — as have partnerships the SBDC helped him secure with two dealers who now sell Wall-Lift.

“I got a large United States map, and I put pins where every sale went so I can see what’s going on,” Mark recalls. “Early on, I saw that if I made one sale in one area, it’s not long before you have two or three more in that same area. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a bad product because it’s selling itself,” adds Mark.

As Wall-Lift continues to grow, Mark finds the SBDC to be a reliable ally in his corner. Sales for the product have doubled every year, ballooning from fewer than 10 in his first year to more than 200 units already sold in 2021. He sold eight in one day and 52 in a single month — records he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see broken.

“[The SBDC] asked me, how big do you want to go? I said that if we got to the point where we could sell two a week, that would be great,” Mark says. “Now we’re way past that.”

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Adroit Theory Brewing Company, Purcellville

Adroit Theory Brewing Company

Dark Magic: making better beer in Loudoun County

$100,000 increase in export sales

From the beginning, Adroit Theory Brewery Company has never opted to do anything small, quiet, or dainty. Their inaugural beer, a 10.0 ABV Imperial Stout, set the stage for a litany of wild, novel, and downright extreme beers that have earned a cult following, not only in the United States but beyond. When asked about his favorite beer, owner Mark Osborne quickly describes an “Invisible Black IPA” that is brewed with black sesame seeds. “It’s actually delicious,” he says with a laugh. 

Adroit Theory’s goal was to start small, but with a big idea. “I remember thinking, ‘I can make something different, cutting edge,’” Mark recalls. “Our specialty is experimental beers. We’ve been polarizing our fan base since day one with these wild, crazy beers.” 

Adroit Theory is also set apart by their marketing and the designs on their bottles. “I decided right away that I wanted to heavily brand what we were doing,” he explains. “I wanted to give it a distinct look and feel. People often describe this look as ‘dark art’ or shocking, but it’s still aesthetically beautiful.”

With Adroit Theory releasing over 915 distinct beers in 6.5 years, the creative demand for new ideas is high. Mark credits Adroit Theory’s singular aesthetics for a huge part of their success. “I would say the branding aspect made it possible for us to expand as fast as we did,” Mark says.

Wanting to get into exporting, Mark remembered how neighboring brewery, Port City Brewing Company, had worked with the Virginia SBDC Network to begin selling internationally. The folks at the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development (IBD) program conducted market research and shared recommendations for a way forward. Mark and the Adroit Theory team found themselves on a trade mission to Europe, where their unique and bold brand of beer was gaining traction. You can detect the amazement in Mark’s voice as he lists the countries that Adroit Theory ships to — Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France — with more orders from European countries pouring in. Production has doubled in the last 12 months. For Mark, the analysis from the SBDC’s IBD program was critical to successfully moving international sales forward. “They provided us so much valuable advice,” he says. “Honestly, it’s changed the way we do business.”

As Mark and his team continue to push beer boundaries, both here and overseas, they know the SBDC will be by their side for a dark, wild, and most importantly, fun ride.

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Gatekeeper Security

Gatekeeper Security

Security business makes bold move

Gatekeeper Security saw their sales increase by $500,000 and 42 jobs are supported.

The September 11 attacks inspired Chris Millar to found Gatekeeper Security. “Really, it was a result of seeing what happened at 9/11 and seeing so much poor equipment being purchased,” he explains.

After 18 years in the banking and international investment banking with exposure in the area of computer vision, he put together a team to design and develop a unique series of intelligent optical inspection and recognition products. With these, he entered the security technology industry.

And enter it he did. Today, Gatekeeper Security is an international organization with more than 2,500 permanent security installations in 38 countries for nuclear power plants, natural gas facilities, oil refineries, airports, commercial banks, chemical plants, hotels, government facilities, and more.

Eventually, Chris decided to move into a different subset of the market: short-term, event security. A surprisingly large demand exists for security services at sports stadiums, conference centers, and large-scale entertainment venues where horse shows, air shows, parades, and concerts occur. Expanding into this unlikely market in the United Kingdom is what motivated Chris to contact the Virginia SBDC Network. He sought help identifying possible clients in the UK.

The Virginia SBDC-George Mason University International Business Development team, consisting of International Trade Manager Aaron Miller and student researchers, Tim O’Shea and Catherine Haggerty, put together a research plan to shape a strategy for the new business model.

“Talking to Aaron and his team, we agreed on a statement of work. They set out doing a lot of research in the UK market, and they identified quite a bit of potential,” Chris says. The SBDC team provided detailed data that included an assessment and contact information for the competition in the UK security technology space. They wrote a detailed spreadsheet listing all the major events and festivals in the UK, including event revenues, venues, the security budget, the points of contact for security, and even a list of the most common criminal activity associated with particular events.

Gatekeeper contacted event producers and elicited promises for security contracts in 2020. Their new business in the UK means increased revenue for Gatekeeper and more jobs here in Virginia.

The move to the short-term event market in the UK helped them win a 2019 Moxie Award. “The Moxie Award is for boldness in business. Gatekeeper won for technology,” Chris says. Since the International Business Development Program at the Virginia SBDC helped identify this new market in the UK, Gatekeeper plans to continue on their bold path with the Virginia SBDC’s team and expand their temporary security services in other countries.

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Matrix International

Matrix International

Global connections add security

Matrix developed an international customer base one year ahead of schedule.

Jeffrey Johnston understands the power of good connections. He sees it as the path to good business.

Jeffrey heads up international business development at Matrix International, a company that specializes in global security, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance planning. “My first effort to grow our business internationally took me to the Philippines,” Jeffrey explains. “A Foreign Commercial Service officer at the U.S. embassy in Manila connected me with his colleague in Arlington, Virginia, who pointed me toward the Virginia SBDC Network. That initial contact, made in the Philippines, opened a lot of doors,” he adds.

While Matrix, primarily a defense contractor, has about 65 employees, depending on the number of workers on contracts at any given time, Jeffrey only has one person working with him. “That’s it,” Jeffrey explains. “I don’t have the manpower to find international business opportunities and develop them on my own.” Then Jeffrey met Aaron Miller, International Trade Manager at the Virginia SBDC Network, who had a team ready and willing to help. “The SBDC has been tremendous in helping to multiply the manpower we need to accomplish the company’s growth,” Jeffrey says.

In 2016 Matrix worked with Aaron to gain insight into specific markets in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. “Aaron had business students from George Mason University do a market survey for us, which was extremely helpful.” Jeffrey explains. The Virginia SBDC’s international team found the best potential markets for Matrix, based on the presence of geopolitical conflict, modernization, and defense spending. The SBDC summarized regulatory environments, found market entry solutions and networking events, and provided Matrix with drone regulation information. The international team’s connections led to Matrix’s acceptance into the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program. This allowed Matrix to add an international component to its commercial customer base.

 “Aaron and the SBDC have been an active and continuing partner for us,” Jeffrey says. “Whenever there are events that might be helpful to us, Aaron invites me to go along. It has given us access to meetings with the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. It has provided both the exposure and access we wouldn’t have been able to tap into otherwise.”

Jeffrey is pleased with the contacts and connections that have allowed Matrix to enter the international market a year ahead of schedule. “I couldn’t develop international business opportunities on my own,” Jeffrey concludes. “Aaron and the SBDC multiplied our manpower and that allowed our company to grow. It’s been tremendous for us.”

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SD Solutions

SD Solutions

Finding solutions at the SBDC

With the SBDC’s help, SD Solutions is in a stronger position because they started the process of diversifying through international markets.

Finding solutions is all in a day’s work for Balaji Venkatesan. His company, SD Solutions, offers services ranging from cybersecurity and information technology (IT) to acquisition support and governance. The company, which currently employs 40, has served such notable clients as the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Election Commission.

Doing well domestically, SD Solutions wanted to enter the international market. There was one problem. “SD Solutions needed a way to make connections,” Balaji says. Enter the Virginia SBDC: solution found!

Balaji discovered the SBDC almost by chance. “They had a table set up at a small business conference I was attending,” he explains. “I went over and talked with them.” Balaji quickly realized the SBDC had the connections and resources he was seeking to help him enter the international market.

“Balaji initially reached out to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program to gain insight on international markets for SD Solutions’ broad range of services,” the SBDC International Trade Manager Aaron Miller says. “SD employees brought 20-plus years of experience in the federal space domestically and wanted to utilize this deep body of knowledge in dealings abroad.”

Balaji asked the SBDC to help him attain information on countries where internet and cybersecurity services were minimal, particularly in government and financial institutions. “We were also looking for breakout opportunities in the infrastructure protection and health industries on the international level,” Balaji adds.

The SBDC’s research was helpful in all of these areas. “Aaron was a big help with networking and making introductions for us,” Balaji notes. “He looked at competitors within the identified markets.” The SBDC also helped the company get into the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “Through VALET, SD Solutions was able to take numerous international trips to attend trade shows in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Peru,” Aaron says.

Since working with the SBDC, SD Solutions has increased its international visibility. “We’re definitely getting a lot of calls on marketing,” Balaji says. “We’ve had quite a few new leads.” SD Solutions’ possibilities for international business are also looking up. “SD Solutions is in a stronger position because they started the process of diversifying through international markets” Aaron says.

As to the chance encounter that brought international trade solutions to his company, Balaji says, “I absolutely plan to continue with the SBDC. I want to thank them for all their help. Hopefully more businesses will leverage the services we found at the SBDC.”

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Port City Brewing Company

Port City Brewing Company

The SBDC: A lifeline to international trade

Port City started with 4 employees in 2011 and now has 54, and international sales, a new endeavor for the company, brought $50,000 in sales in 2018.

After successfully working for a number of years with the Alexandria SBDC on their domestic business, Port City Brewing Company wanted to test the waters of international trade last year and quickly discovered a need for more expert advice. Fortunately the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program was there to throw out a lifeline. “When we first started looking at exporting to the United Kingdom, we thought we’d go it alone and figure all this out on our own,” Bill Butcher says. “Working with Aaron Miller at the SBDC really helped us navigate a new facet of our business we really were not familiar with.”

Bill and Karen decided to open the Alexandria brewery eight years ago. “I spent 20 years in the wine business,” Bill explains. “For many of those years, I worked for the Mondavi family of Napa Valley, as the high-end brand manager for the Mid-Atlantic.” Bill’s area of expertise was in brand building, sales, and distribution. “Over those years I always enjoyed good quality beer and watched as the craft-beer industry grew and became more sophisticated,” he adds.

In Alexandria, Bill found an area in need of more options for quality craft beer. “Karen found that the Metro DC area was the only top 25 Metro area in the country that did not have a craft-beer brewery that packaged their beer,” Bill notes. They decided to remedy that situation and opened their own brewery.

It has been a time of rapid growth for this brewery and others across the nation. Bill points out, “When we opened in 2011, there were 40 breweries in Virginia; now there are 240. Nationally, there were 2,600 breweries in 2011; today there’s over 7,000.”

Port City has also experienced rapid growth. “We started with four people,” Bill says. “Today we have 54 employees. We’ve been hiring a lot of people since we opened.” Last year, Port City produced 16,000 barrels with distribution in nine states with the bulk of sales in the Washington D.C. area. It seemed like a good time to look for new markets overseas.

“Preparing for export was a big undertaking for our company,” Port City’s Manager of Marketing and Beer Strategy Chris Van Orden says. “The guidance from Aaron and his Virginia SBDC team has proved invaluable.” “Chris is our point person with the SBDC,” Bill adds. “He has attended embassy events arranged by the SBDC to introduce us to contacts in the UK. It’s been a tremendous help to open the door and make connections to develop our business.” Those connections have already produced results.

“We are now active in the UK market, and we’re working with a French importer,” Bill notes. “We’ve also been able to ship some beer to Canada. There’s a lot of interest developing in those markets. This year, our international sales will be about $50,000. We expect to grow our UK business by about 15% a year over the next several years.”

Bill is pleased with the help he has received from the SBDC and plans to stay connected. “The SBDC has been an effective way for us to learn about new market opportunities,” he concludes. “As more arise, we definitely want to take advantage of their services.”

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