A 30-year-old Long Island nonprofit is reinventing itself as a trainer for companies seeking to increase their exports and imports.

The National Institute for World Trade has teamed up with two local universities to create classes on topics such as the best ways to send products overseas, how to comply with the regulations of U.S. and foreign governments, and how to save money on trade deals.

The move comes as President Donald Trump reignites the national debate over free trade’s impact on U.S. companies and employees. He’s said he plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, between the United States, Canada and Mexico, and has voided the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

East Moriches-based NIWT was started in 1986 by Spencer Ross, a former executive of defense contractor Sperry Corp. Under his leadership, the group organized trips for business executives to China and other promising overseas markets and publicized the importance of trade to Long Island’s economy.

Last year, Ross handed over the institute’s reins to Thomas A. Cook, a longtime executive of several shipping and logistics businesses who has been involved with NIWT since the late 1980s. Ross continues to advise the refocused NIWT.

Filling gap on skills

“We started thinking about the skills that people need to be involved in international trade, and how to fill the gap on a permanent basis,” said Cook, who also runs Blue Tiger International consultants in East Moriches. “There is nothing formally being done right now, and we think there is a need.”

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Qosina Corp. in Ronkonkoma, a distributor of components used in medical devices, recently had Cook train 50 of its employees in the nuts and bolts of international shipping and logistics.

“We’ve been exporting for 30-plus years, but Tom brings a knowledge base, a skills set that we didn’t have,” said Gerry Quinn, chief operating officer at Qosina, which also supplies beauty products to hair salons and spas through its Qosmedix division.

Before he became NIWT managing director and started Blue Tiger, Cook was CEO of American River International Ltd., which was headquartered in Melville at the time, and California-based Apex Logistics. He is writing his 20th book and has two degrees from SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx.

Tom Iavarone, operations director at Qosina, said, “Besides the textbook stuff, he knows it from first-hand experience.”

Qosina, which has sales of under $100 million per year, was introduced to Cook by Stony Brook University’s Center for Corporate Education. He is one of the center’s certified instructors and was paid through a state training grant awarded to Qosina last year.

Patricia Malone, the center’s executive director, said she and Cook are developing a certificate program at Stony Brook in Advanced Global Supply Chain Management.

They will seek input from businesses to shape the program, she said.

Learning curve

“Companies here need to become more sophisticated, more efficient in how they approach export and import,” Malone said.

The NIWT-Stony Brook certificate program is being designed to help manufacturers and distributors. The cost is between $150 and $350 per person.

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Separately, NIWT is offering two non-credit courses through Hofstra University’s Continuing Education division for people who work for shipping companies.

Topics include sales, marketing, customer service and supply chain management for freight forwarders and customhouse brokers, said Colleen A. Slattery, continuing education vice dean at Hofstra. The three-day courses cost $800 per person. Both start later this month.