Timing right for Corbett-led trade trip to Brazil, Chile, experts say

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 6:02 p.m.

International business experts in Pittsburgh praised Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to travel to Brazil and Chile on a trade mission next spring, a trip his office announced Thursday.

Pennsylvania's exports to the two growing countries have tripled in recent years, totaling $1.6 billion combined in 2011, according to Census data and the U.S. Commercial Service in Pittsburgh. They're buying products from mining, heavy equipment and transportation companies — all businesses strong in Pennsylvania, the experts said.

With global events like the World Cup and the Olympics awarded to Brazil, and a growing oil drilling industry in the region, now is the time for engineering and design companies, environmental technology manufacturers, and oil and gas companies to move in, too. Small- and medium-sized businesses stand to gain the most from a goodwill trip from Corbett, they said.

“I think this is a perfect time, it's a crucial time, it's a much-needed time ... for Americans to go to Brazil, engage, meet with potential distributors because the market is growing,” said Brent Rondon, a native of Peru and manager of the global business program at Duquesne University's Small Business Development Center. “And when there's growth, there's opportunities.”

The nonprofit business development organization Team Pennsylvania Foundation is funding the governor's participation on the 10-day trip in April. Businesses will pay a fee of $3,000 or $5,000 — depending on their size — for translators and guides to help them meet potential business partners and fund the governor's travel, said Matt Zieger, CEO of Team Pennsylvania.

The governor and his staff can get local businessmen access to high-ranking officials whom they otherwise may not be able to meet and can help coordinate follow-up communications at home, said Ravi Madhavan, professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh. The governor's presence also helps convince people in Brazil and Chile that their markets are important to Pennsylvania, good will that should not be underestimated, said Lyn Doverspike, director of the U.S. Commercial Service in Pittsburgh.

Latin American countries have long been overshadowed by Europe and Asia but are gaining more attention from years spent reforming and modernizing their markets and legal systems, Rondon said. Chile, bolstered by a free-trade agreement signed in 2004, grew to $317 million of exports just from Pennsylvania in 2011. Brazil, bolstered by widespread economic growth, is now topping $1 billion in exports annually from the state, the eighth most worldwide.

Team Pennsylvania is looking to take 15 to 20 companies on the trip, concentrating on small businesses, Zieger said. That's key, said Henry Posner III, chairman of Green Tree-based Railroad Development Corp., which has done business in several Latin American countries. Small businesses with about 100 or fewer workers can gain experience and support from the trip, but larger companies usually have the type of resources and the position where they don't need the help, Posner said.

“You hear lots of speeches and flailing around, and anybody who's looking to make a deal on a trade mission is probably wasting their time,” he added. “However, what it does do: It gets people who wouldn't otherwise go to dip their toe in the water, visit these countries and see what it's like to get a sense of the landscape so they might go back.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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