EDC Traveling the Globe to Bring More Business and Investment to Tampa

February 1, 2013

Chris Wilkerson | Tampa Bay Business Journal

True to his title, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Rick Homans created a new job of his own last fall to focus more sharply on foreign direct investment and international trade.

Lorrie Belovich joined the EDC as the director of international business development in October and immediately helped lead a group of more than 30 Tampa area business and community leaders on a business development mission to Colombia. The expected direct impact of that visit will be about $7.3 million in sales for Tampa area companies.

Naturally, the group has more of those trips on the calendar. There are business development missions to Germany and Switzerland in April and Brazil in the fall. The EDC is hosting a group from Colombia in May. Local business leaders also are going to Chile, Panama and Costa Rica this year with Enterprise Florida.

It’s a big shift for Tampa Bay, which for years struggled with international business development, in part because a lack of commitment to developing the business at Tampa International Airport. That has now changed.

Belovich comes to the EDC after seven years doing similar work at Enterprise Florida. She spent that past year as the regional manager for trade investment covering a ten-county area around Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Business Journal recently sat with Homans and Belovich in their offices high above downtown Tampa to learn why Hillsborough County needed an economic development professional dedicated to international trade and what the business community can expect to gain from it.

Homans: We have these international drivers – like the airport, the port and USF – that have such strong international connections. As I settled into this job, I began hearing more and more about different components that all had different strategies. I was told that this is the challenge that this community always has had – we have many people who are working on international trade and business development, but we have never had the level of collaboration we need to succeed.

As I got to know the airport and began to hear that they had a very clear strategy as to the markets that they wanted to open up. They did not have a shotgun approach to this. They had direct flights to Germany, to Colombia, to São Paolo and to Panama as their goals – because they had the analysis. The data was telling them: This is where we should be looking. Then I sat down with the port and I heard Brazil, Colombia, Panama, and it was clear that there were some synergies and we all needed to be working together towards that goal.

TBBJ: Lorrie, what did you learn in your years at Enterprise Florida that you knew you could leverage locally?

Belovich: From that seat, I found out how important it is for the individual communities to also have an organic trade unit. Those counties that actually had someone devoted to trade or at least someone identified as the go-to person for trade were always the strongest in their trade strategies, whether export or foreign trade investment.

Eight counties is a big region. I think that a lot of the philosophy out there sounds like ‘Enterprise Florida is here, they are doing that,’ or ‘We have the U.S. Department of Commerce, they are already doing that, so why do we need an office.’

A lot of what we do is to leverage those programs, but no one can pinpoint the needs of the county and the community better than someone who is serving only that region.

TBBJ: What can the business community expect to see a couple of years down the road after this office has had somebody in your seat for a little while?

Homans: Specifically, after two or three years of doing this, the business community can expect to see increased international business. We will see that through our exports increasing out of Tampa Bay through the port, we will see foreign companies that have operations here expand their operations here because we will have been working with their headquarters in their home countries and hopefully we will see some new foreign companies relocate here and use this as their platform for either sales, distribution, manufacturing or research and development. We should be seeing more international business here in Tampa Bay at the end of having a dedicated program like this for two or three years.

Belovich: I think we already are seeing it. There is a real buzz in Tampa now. People stood up and took notice that we had a delegation of 33 at the governor’s mission to Colombia. I was approached by some of my former colleagues in Miami who were saying ‘What’s going on up there in Tampa?’

We are recruiting some of the best and the brightest. We have a new port director [Paul Anderson] and everyone is aware that [Tampa International Airport CEO] Joe Lopano has an aggressive international outreach program. There is definitely a buzz in this state. All eyes are looking at Tampa.

We came back from that mission (to Colombia) with some significant outcomes: $7.3 million in expected sales.

TBBJ: Can you elaborate on “expected sales?”

Belovich: All of the specifics are confidential, but ‘expected sales’ are the beginning of a negotiation with a company and a partner to export their products or services from here to the Colombia market. That figure, $7.3 million, includes direct sales and expected sales over the next 12 months.

TBBJ: What would make a success story out of one of these business development missions?

Belovich: Most FDI, just like anything in business, is a relationship. It usually starts with a knock on the door. That business owner one day is going to start looking for a foothold in the United States and he is going to remember that the Mayor of Tampa knocked on his door. Those are important and they can turn into a huge capital investment.

I would love to see one of these companies that we call on to open up a facility here in the next two or three years – that’s a win. Even if it is a small facility, it is a win, because most large facilities here started out small.

TBBJ: What size business will likely benefit from these trips overseas?

Belovich: The Coca-Colas of the world might not need us for advice, but at the same time, their supply chain is important. We need the larger companies at the table as part of that collaborative effort because those are the ones filling up the front end of the planes. Those are the ones with the contacts that can help us with outreach.

On the exporting side, we support small businesses in terms of their trade objectives, giving them the opportunity and the mechanism to get into a foreign market with some of these one-on-one opportunities.

On the foreign direct investment side, it’s rare that you are going to attract that large manufacturer on your first time out the door, because it is rare that [a company is] going to invest a large sum of money in a market that is a new market for you.

So, they come in as smaller investments. They come in as a sales office. They come in as a prospecting team. Research shows that the small two-or-three-person entity grows at a faster pace and creates more higher-paying jobs than even some of the domestic recruitment.