TAMPA — Jay Conroy could have traveled to Chile by himself to try to connect with potential customers for his company.
As owner and president of Hydo-Dyne Engineering, Conroy knows there is a demand in the booming South American country for the kind of water treatment equipment his Clearwater-based firm manufactures, but there would be no guarantee he would get face time with, as he put it, "the people that matter."
That wasn't a problem last week, when Conroy joined a historic trade mission to Chile organized by economic development officials on both sides of Tampa Bay. Among his travel partners: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel and Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller. Conroy had 11 meetings with potential clients during the trip.
"We kind of came down with a certain bit of clout that normally we wouldn't have if we just showed up in a country knocking on people's doors trying to push our products," Conroy said at a news conference Tuesday at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
The voyage was first of its kind since the Tampa Bay Export Alliance was formed this year to boost the region's export activity. Representatives from 14 companies headed south for meetings with potential customers. The U.S. Department of Commerce vetted each company and arranged the meetings.
The companies combined took part in more than 100 meetings that resulted in solid leads and an estimated $9 million in expected export orders and counting, said Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which formed the alliance with counterpart Pinellas County Economic Development.
Burnishing their beginner Spanish skills, Kriseman and Buckhorn met with Santiago Mayor Carolina Tohá Morales and signed an agreement pledging support for increased trade, education and cultural activities between their respective cities.
"These missions are about relationships and you cannot do relationships over the phone, you cannot do them in text messages or emails," Kriseman said. "They have to be face to face, and that's where this mission was so successful."
For officials from Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and Visit Tampa Bay, the trip was an opportunity to introduce Tampa Bay to a country more familiar with Miami and Orlando. They met nearly 150 tour operators and travel agents who hope to take advantage of a new visa waiver program between U.S. and Chile and the new service to the country offered by Copa Airlines from Tampa International Airport.
In Santiago's epic traffic jams, Curt Thomas saw opportunity. The automotive parts manufacturer already ships worldwide from its headquarters in Brooksville, but the Chilean trip connected the company with distributors who can move high-volume orders, said Thomas, Monster's vice president of operations.
The company representatives paid their own way, and the export alliance paid travel expenses for the elected officials with private dollars.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.