TAMPA — First came the introductions and invitations.
A team of local business recruiters spent last week calling on a variety of small- to medium-sized manufacturers in Germany, asking them to consider expanding in the Tampa Bay area.
Now, over the next 60 days, eight of those companies have agreed to come for a site visit.
"Based on the feedback we received as a result of the mission, we're very pleased," said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. "We established some critical relationships, and when you're dealing internationally, those human relationships, personal relationships, are really key to the decisionmaking process."
Local economic development officials did not name any of the prospects, but said Monday that the companies make everything from heat-exchange equipment and radio frequency identification devices to aerospace components and cleaning equipment for the pharmaceutical industry, to water recycling and fuel filtration systems.
Some are interested in opening sales and distribution offices here. Others could explore bringing in manufacturing operations. And local officials have been working for months with a German manufacturer interested in establishing its U.S. headquarters in Hillsborough County.
The delegation included Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whose presence helped convince the Germans that the Tampa group was serious and had strong local backing, as well as Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, and leaders from the Economic Development Corp. and Tampa Bay & Co.
After three months of research and preparation, they focused on companies with 50 to 300 employees that have some interest in expanding into the U.S. market, particularly Florida. Generally, major corporations would hire a consultant to help with that sort of expansion, but these smaller companies were open to a more personal approach.
About 80 to 90 percent of the business meetings were conducted in English, and when the conversation turned to visa and immigration-related topics, officials said it helped to have Norma Henning, the Naples-based honorary consul to the Federal Republic of Germany, along as part of the delegation.
The group also met with executives from Swiss-based Edelweiss Air, which already flies into Tampa International Airport from Zurich, and the German airline Lufthansa. It could take years to develop Lufthansa as a prospect for Tampa, but these introductions are how you start, Lopano said.
The Germany trip was different from the much larger trade mission from the Tampa Bay area that last December went to Barranquilla, Colombia, a major port that is one of Tampa's sister cities.
Trade missions are aimed at drumming up new markets for exports, and bay area companies returned with an estimated $7.3 million in sales prospects. Sometime between September and November, a similar mission is expected to head to Brazil.
"That economy is hot, they're buying products, and we're going to be taking a whole delegation of businesspeople," Homans said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at d[email protected]