Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Business

Tampa Bay leaders descend on Chile with a mission to expand exports

In a nondescript building in Pinellas Park, a homegrown company makes equipment so rugged and reliable, the U.S. Army is a regular customer.

Among the newer products from Custom Manufacturing and Engineering Inc., is a solar panel that produces 440 watts of electricity and folds into a case light enough to be hefted by two people.

"Open it up, hook it up and you're up and running in about 10 minutes," said company president Nancy Crews.

The family business of about 35 full-time employees doesn't do much exporting, but that could change soon.

This week, Crews will join a historic trade mission to Santiago, Chile, organized by the Tampa Bay Export Alliance. Representatives from 14 Tampa Bay area companies and organizations will sit down for prearranged meetings with potential buyers who are already interested in their goods and services.

The trip is the first since the alliance was formed earlier this year by top economic development officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough. Leading the mission are some big political names from both sides of the bay: Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn said he believes it's the first time that the mayors of the bay area's two largest cities have gone together on a trade mission abroad.

"Symbolically and substantively, this is a huge step forward in the Pinellas-Hillsborough relationship," he said, "but more importantly, it recognizes that we compete together as a region and that the parochialism is a thing of the past."

While company representatives connect with potential trade partners, the delegates will meet with political counterparts and others to sell the region as a whole, said Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Rick Homans. The itinerary includes a meeting with the Chilean Trade Commission and Santiago Mayor Carolina Tohá Morales.

"We'll really be taking Santiago by storm for the three days that we'll be there," Homans said. "We'll be present, we'll be visible and we'll be making waves."

While the main goal is boosting exports, officials from Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and Visit Tampa Bay also are making the trip with hopes of capitalizing on Chile's new visa waiver program, which allows eligible citizens to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.

"What we hope we import are tourists," said Seel, who chairs her county's Tourist Development Council.

Reaching for a goal

Chile's economy is consistently ranked as one of the most open and stable in Latin America and is already one of Florida's leading trade partners. That, local leaders say, makes the country a good place to start a boots-on-the-ground effort to improve a glaring statistic.

According to the Tampa Bay Partnership, exports in 2012 accounted for only 8 percent of the bay area's GRP, gross regional product, for the eight-county region surrounding Hills­borough and Pinellas. The national average is 12 percent of exports contributing to GRP. If the bay area were to reach that level of exports, it could inject up to $8 billion into the Tampa Bay economy and potentially create up to 40,000 jobs.

"It's about leveraging the region's strengths, building relationships and, most important, seeing a measurable increase in export sales," said Stacey Swank, business development manager for Pinellas County Economic Development.

Suitable matches

The ground work for the trip started months ago when businesses submitted applications to the U.S. Commercial Service, the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The agency looks for applicants that offer goods and services suitable for the market and helps match attendees with potential buyers in the host country.

Strong sectors in Chile include health care and medical equipment, telecommunications and renewable energy. Local businesses making this week's trip specialize in wastewater screening, custom stonework, electric motor repair, industrial sealant, marine supplies and emergency oxygen equipment, among other goods and services. Representatives from Eckerd College and the University of South Florida are also making the trip.

Kriseman said he worked to get Eckerd to attend to tout their marine science program and others that could attract Chilean students. He said he gladly accepted the invitation to serve as an ambassador for St. Petersburg businesses that could not attend but have something to offer to trade partners there.

"It's an opportunity for us to get in the game, so to speak, to attract business here and help educate that area on what we have to offer from a tourism standpoint," Kriseman said.

Crews said her company's solar panels could be attractive to Chile's booming mining industry. More orders could mean hiring more highly-skilled workers.

"We're so new at this we're just looking for a foothold in the marketplace and then go from there," she said. "We're really excited."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Comments
Housing starts tumbled 12.3 percent in June

Housing starts tumbled 12.3 percent in June

Associated PressWASHINGTON — U.S. homebuilders sharply curtailed the pace of construction in June as housing starts plummeted 12.3 percent. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.17 m...
Updated: 1 hour ago
EU fines Google a record $5 billion over mobile system

EU fines Google a record $5 billion over mobile system

BRUSSELS — The European Union fined Google a record $5 billion Wednesday for using the market dominance of its Android mobile operating system to force handset makers to install Google apps, reducing choice for consumers.EU Competition Commissioner M...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Past mistakes hamper Clearwater’s effort to revive downtown business incentives

Past mistakes hamper Clearwater’s effort to revive downtown business incentives

CLEARWATER — One year after the city’s boldest incentive program yet failed to secure a single business deal for downtown and caused confusion among applicants, the guidelines are being scrapped and rewritten to leave less room for misinterpretation....
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tired of fast food? Maybe there’ll be an Armature Works-like hall in Trinity

Tired of fast food? Maybe there’ll be an Armature Works-like hall in Trinity

TRINITY — New Jersey-based M&M Realty Partners has a contract to develop the remaining 300 acres of the Mitchell 54 West project at State Road 54 and Little Road.Land owner Dewey Mitchell shared the information July 11 with a North Tampa Bay Chamber ...
Published: 07/18/18
Pinellas County Commission shows support for CrossBay Ferry

Pinellas County Commission shows support for CrossBay Ferry

CLEARWATER –– The ferry that once linked St. Petersburg and Tampa downtowns took one step closer to returning in November.While the Pinellas County Commission didn’t approve spending money to help pay for the CrossBay Ferry during a meeting Tuesday, ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

TAMPA — Tampa Ship could welcome more than 1,000 new shipbuilding jobs if Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards wins a major contract to build up to six Coast Guard polar icebreakers.Bollinger could start staffing up at Tampa Ship, which has 62 acres a...
Published: 07/17/18
Robert Traurig, who helped build one of the world’s largest law firms, dies at 93

Robert Traurig, who helped build one of the world’s largest law firms, dies at 93

Robert Traurig helped build one of the largest law firms in the world and, in so doing, swept Miami-Dade County upward.Brickell Avenue skyscrapers. Open-air malls like Cocowalk in Coconut Grove. Residential communities on the edge of the Everglades. ...
Published: 07/17/18
Hard Rock announces new hotel in Ireland in 2020

Hard Rock announces new hotel in Ireland in 2020

Hard Rock International is expanding across the pond. The Seminole Tribe-owned casino and hotel chain announced Tuesday that it will open a Hard Rock Hotel Dublin in 2020, its first hotel in Ireland. It will partner with Irish hotel company Tifco Lim...
Published: 07/17/18
New Spring Hill funeral home offers dining, catering services for grieving families

New Spring Hill funeral home offers dining, catering services for grieving families

SPRING HILL — A new funeral home, in response to changing mores, is focused on serving the living, providing homelike conviviality and social amenities that reach beyond attention to death.Yvette and Jim Klausch, licensed funeral directors with 40 ye...
Published: 07/17/18
Want to live on Beeswax Lane? Tampa Bay developers strain to create new street names

Want to live on Beeswax Lane? Tampa Bay developers strain to create new street names

When Newland Communities began developing FishHawk Ranch in Hillsborough County two decades ago, naming streets wasn’t much of a problem."Literally, we would get out our list of Florida native bird names every time a new section came online," said Pa...
Published: 07/17/18