Germany trip pays off with employer visit to Tampa

April 22, 2013

Kevin Wiatrowski | The Tampa Tribune 
Regional business leaders expect to host up to eight German manufacturing companies this spring as part of an effort to entice them to establish an American foothold in the Tampa region.
The companies that have committed to visit over the next 60 days are involved in heat exchanger industry, radio-frequency ID technology and pharmaceutical manufacturing, said Rick Homans, head of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. He wouldn’t name any of them.
Homans secured those promised visits last week while he, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other business leaders spent five days selling the Tampa area to mid-sized companies in the German cities of Munich, Nuremberg and Frankfurt.
“We established some critical relationships,” Homans said during Monday’s post-trip report. “We’re confident this will lead to increased jobs and capital investment here in Tampa.”
Homans said last week’s trip was different from last fall’s trip to Colombia. That visit was about making connections between Tampa companies and potential customers in Colombia.
The trip to Germany was more about selling the Germans on what this area has to offer.
German companies are already selling their products in the U.S., but often at a premium. Establishing a base in the U.S. could lower their costs and make them more competitive, Homans said.
Tampa wears its Latin American heritage on its sleeve, but beneath the surface the region has historic and current ties to Germany.
The region is already home to several German companies, among them Odessa-based Coastal Caisson, which builds bridge footings, seawalls and other supersized construction projects. The company is owned by BAUER Foundation Corp., a Florida subsidiary of a Germany parent.
Germans are the third-largest segment of the region’s tourist traffic, behind Canadians and the British and ahead of Brazilians, according to Economic Development Corp. figures.
Business leaders said they hope to build on that relationship by expanding industrial connections.
“Most everyone knows Florida,” Buckhorn said. “But what’s first and foremost in their minds is Miami and Orlando. We have so many assets here that are compelling to foreign investments.”
The delegation flew to Europe on Edelweiss Airlines, which has a weekly flight between Tampa and Zurich.
The flight over was full of businessmen and the flight back was full of German tourists planning to hit the region’s beaches and other attractions, said Joe Lopano, president of Tampa International Airport.
Lopano said the delegates met with German airline Lufthansa during their trip. They held similar meetings with Avianca Airlines in Colombia and with COPA, the Panamanian national airline on a trip to Panama City two weeks after Buckhorn took office in 2011.
Homans said the region’s next business trip will be a regional trade mission next fall to Brazil.
Buckhorn frequently speaks about making Tampa the gateway to Latin America. He expanded on that theme after last week’s trip to Germany and Switzerland.
“If we are truly going to be the gateway to the world, then we have to plant Tampa’s flag around the world,” he said.