SARASOTA -- A mission last week to build economic bonds between the Manatee-Sarasota region and Canada led to meetings with 32 Canadian companies, according to one participant in the venture.
“We talked to some progressive and expanding companies in the renewable and sustainable energy area, including corporations that are state-of-the-art with taking waste streams and trash and breaking it down into energy or useful materials,” said Steve Quieor, who represented the Sarasota-Manatee International Business Council on the mission. “It’s a particularly good time to talk to these companies.”
Quieor, who is also president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, visited Toronto and Montreal along with representatives of the Tampa Bay Regional Partnership and Enterprise Florida, a public/private entity charged with seeking out economic development opportunities on behalf of the governor’s office.
Quieor said an outreach to Canada is the top priority this year of the business council, formed about 18 months ago to improve the two-county region’s international economic outreach. Other members of the council, which focused last year on Panama, include Eric Basinger, executive director of the Manatee Economic Development Corp.; Steve Tyndal, senior director at Port Manatee; and Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
“Canada hasn’t experienced a downturn in their economy like most of the other parts of the world,” Bartz said, “so that makes them a good candidate for people who might be looking for expansion opportunities.”
Last week’s mission is “step two” in the council’s long-term outreach to Canada, Basinger said. The first step occurred in October, when Basinger and other council members also visited Canada. Basinger said that visit resulted in ongoing conversations with at least one company, who he refused to identify, that continues to consider southwest Florida as its destination for expansion plans.
“We don’t want to meet with companies once they’re already in the final stages of deciding on a location because it’s usually too late at that point,” Basinger said. “We want to meet with them when they’re just starting to think about it.”
Coming steps will include a second trip to key Canadian cities in November, and a follow-up event that will involve inviting Canadian economic development officials to the Manatee-Sarasota area, Tyndal said.
“(Last week’s) mission provided the opportunity to do some groundwork for us,” said Tyndal, who is also chairperson of the business council this year.
Timing is appropriate for outreach to Canada, Quieor said, because the Obama administration and Canada’s leaders have embarked on a “beyond the border” program designed to “reduce red tape in getting goods back and forth.”
Canadian companies find this area attractive, he said, for numerous reasons: a plethora of universities nearby to help prepare a skilled workforce, a supportive atmosphere for businesses, transportation assets such as Port Manatee and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and an overall familiarity with the region because of leisure travel.
Basinger said the area has an inventory of more than 100 available buildings, a quality that remains attractive to both domestic and international companies looking to expand or relocate.
The area is also rife already with Canadian connections. For example, Tyndal said, two Montreal-based companies -- Logistec USA and Federal Marine Terminals -- are key port tenants. Logistec is also responsible for maintaining and insuring the port’s two $4 million mobile harbor cranes, which are used to load and unload ships.
At least 14 Canada-based companies are located throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties, including six with Manatee County offices: Crop Production Services, Emcare Inc., Extendicare, Federal Marine Terminals, Intertape Polymer, and Ipg Holdings.
Finally, Canada’s history of trade nationwide makes it a high priority for economic development efforts. Canada is the country’s largest goods trading partner, with $430 billion in trading in 2009. It’s also the leading export market for 36 of the country’s 50 states, the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the United States, and the country’s largest foreign investor.
Christine Hawes, Bradenton Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.