To most, the World Trade Center is a reminder of terrorism's evil: two jetliners commandeered on a gorgeous September morning, bringing down New York's landmark twin towers, killing more than 2,700 and unhinging a nation.

In Philadelphia, the World Trade Center is a bistate nonprofit fighting to be better known.

The attention the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia (WTCGP) especially seeks is from the region's small businesses, a sector it says is missing tremendous growth opportunity by not exporting.

"Ninety-six percent of the world's consumers lie outside our borders, so it's a tremendous opportunity for companies to look to global markets," said Ron Drozd, manager of WTCGP's export services.

Since its creation in 2002 as one of more than 330 licensed World Trade Centers in the world, WTCGP has helped companies in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey generate $1.1 billion in export sales.

That's a relative drop in the bucket in the context of what's possible, said president Linda Mysliwy Conlin, citing studies indicating that less than 1 percent of small businesses nationally are exporting.

That more are not is often a "question of the unknown," said Dino Ramos, WTCGP's senior vice president of trade services. The uncertainty is often over getting paid and language and cultural barriers, he said.

Part of WTCGP's work is helping bring more certainty to the process through seminars and one-on-one counseling with companies. As a regional export coordinator for Pennsylvania, WTCGP also has trade representatives in more than 50 countries, their contacts with overseas agents and distributors invaluable.

With an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of six full-time employees and two co-op students from Drexel University, WTCGP serves 300 to 400 companies a year with in-depth help and answers questions for 200 more, Conlin said.

Considerably more could be reached if resources were better, she said: "To enable us to help all the companies that really need our services, we could easily be a multiple of that - $3 million to $4 million and more."

WTCGP has not been immune from the shrinking pool of government grants that has caused rough times for many nonprofits. Those and membership fees are its main sources of revenue. A year ago, it increased the annual membership fee for the first time, from $500 to $1,000. It currently has 149 paying members.

For a small agency, its expertise is deep, starting at the top. Before joining WTCGP in 2009, Conlin, of Cherry Hill, was a vice chair of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, an assistant U.S. secretary of commerce in trade development for President George W. Bush, and an international-tourism promoter for President George H.W. Bush.

"The challenge is to successfully monetize the value of our services, including through the corporate and philanthropic community," Conlin said in an interview at WTCGP's offices on the third floor of 2 Penn Center.

Among those vouching for WTCGP's value are Jet Pulverizer Co. of Moorestown, a grinding specialist, and Valtech Corp. of Pottstown, a specialty-chemical company. They will be honored as Member Companies of the Year for New Jersey and Pennsylvania on Thursday evening at WTCGP's World Trade Centers Day celebration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Global Business Leadership Award will go to William Hunt, CEO of the helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp.

At Jet Pulverizer, treasurer and co-owner Christine Henry said she learned last year of WTCGP, which helped the company get export insurance to protect against customer nonpayment.

"Several of our customers were having financial problems," Henry said, "so dealing internationally became a much scarier proposition for us." Now, it makes up 15 percent of Jet's business, she said.

With 85 percent of Valtech's sales done abroad, vice president Robert Girard lauded WTCGP's network of trade representatives.

"It gives you such a head start," Girard said. "They can get you anywhere."

In a conference room that WTCGP shares with other tenants, Conlin said she dreams of her agency having something that world trade centers in other cities, including Baltimore and Boston, already have: a building of its own.

One was proposed along the Delaware River in the 1990s by developer Waterfront Renaissance Associates but was never built. WTCGP is licensed only to provide trade services, not to develop real estate.

Marty Schiffman, a member of WTCGP's board, also is president of Lodging Opportunities Group, which is searching the region for a world trade center site, Conlin said.

"Once that building goes up, we'd want to be a part of it, housed there with all sorts of service providers," she said.

With Gov. Corbett favoring trade programs and Philadelphia having a globe-trotting mayor "who truly gets it . . . it's not out of the realm of possibility to have a World Trade Center building," Conlin said. "The time is right."


Trade Center president Linda Mysliwy Conlin takes a closer look at Jet Pulverizer's work.

215-854-2466 @dmastrull