When people talk about the global economy, they’re not just talking about deals that take place overseas.
Florida already plays a sizable role in international trade, and Pasco County companies are showing an increasing interest in attracting global customers.
About 100 people turned out to learn more at “Growing Global,” a half-day international exporting conference hosted by the Pasco Economic Development Council on Feb. 10.
The conference, held at the Residence Inn in Land O’ Lakes, featured speakers from international countries and business experts who provided information aimed at helping companies understand the markets, and also to help smooth the way for those interested in exporting goods and services.
Pasco County is increasingly part of the global market, said Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco EDC. “It (international trade) is not reserved to those big cities, like Orlando and Miami.”
The conference attracted business owners, Pasco County officials and representatives of the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida, Enterprise Florida, Tampa Bay Export Assistance Center and Pinellas County Economic Development.
Representatives from Canada, France, Germany and Mexico were there, too. They made sales pitches extolling reasons to do business with their respective countries.
They also shared data on imports and exports that already generate billions of dollars in global trade.
Louise Leger, acting consul general of Canada, reported that total trade between Canada and Florida is about $8 billion annually.
Canada is the No. 1 source of tourism to Florida, Leger said.
About one in nine Canadians visit annually and spend a total of about $4 billion.
Canada employs about 27,000 Floridians in 300 companies located in the state, including Circle K and TD Bank.
With the exchange rate currently favoring the stronger U.S. dollar, Leger said now is a good time to invest in Canada. “We are there to help you be successful, whether it is here or in Canada,” Leger said. The consulate is located in Miami.
Max Stewart, regional manager of Enterprise Florida, touted the state agency’s upcoming trade missions to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico City.
“This is the time to be thinking internationally,” he said. “The U.S. is really, really strong in this market.”
Trade missions can open doors to foreign markets more quickly, Cronin said. “It allows our companies to get a lot more exposure than they would otherwise get,” he said.
While the focus often is on products, Cronin added that services also are a growing segment of global trade.
Not everything sold overseas has to be something that gets “thrown in a box. A lot of people don’t recognize that,” Cronin said.
A brief panel discussion highlighted some challenges of doing business overseas including paperwork, obtaining work permits and cultural sensitivities.
The panel showcased local businesses: Earthworks Environmental, in Safety Harbor; York Bridge Concepts, in Lutz; and TwinStar Optics, in Port Richey.
“You need to have a strategy,” said Jonathan Brewer, owner of Earthworks Environmental, which specializes in soil cleanups. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Peter Thomas of TwinOptics makes opticals for laser-based weapons that require government approvals. “We worry about it being a weapon against the United States. A lot of time, we wait on (federal) government to get back to us.”
James York, of York Bridge Concepts, said companies that want to trade globally should “bring something unique to the table and, at some point, they (trade partners) are going to say ‘Hey, we need that’.”
York Bridge Concepts specializes in timber-built bridges for golf courses, trails and residential developments. The company began more than 30 years ago in Tampa, but moved to Lutz in 2008.
“We work in a global environment,” said Gil York, the company’s director of international development and public relations. “It’s irrelevant where you are located. It’s how you market your business.”
Published February 17, 2016