When the Manatee Economic Development Corp. unveiled its global business brand for the Bradenton area last fall, some in the audience were taken by surprise.
The tag line we announced for the marketing initiative to recruit business and jobs to Manatee County's nine communities is "Think Global. Think Bradenton Area." It's a big idea, but one that already has traction through the companies that have chosen to locate and grow here.
Manatee County has attracted a number of employers whose parent companies are located overseas. Our community is serving as their foothold to reach markets throughout the Americas. Examples of recent arrivals include IRISS (from the United Kingdom), Hot Brands International (Canada) and Orbeco-Hellige Inc. (Germany).
But what about companies based in the United States that need to serve customers overseas? You might be surprised to learn that we can boast a number of businesses that are rooted here and have broad international reach.
For example, more than 60 years ago, Italian immigrant Anthony Rossi established a small fruit packing business in Florida. The company he founded grew to become Tropicana Products Inc., the No. 1 global fruit brand. The world's leading marketer of chilled orange juice, including Tropicana Pure Premium, Tropicana distributes its products in 70 countries.
Feld Entertainment, which has been operating in Palmetto since 1992 and is setting up its global headquarters in Ellenton, presents live entertainment in 70 countries on six different continents. Shows include Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Feld Motor Sports, Disney Live! and Disney On Ice.
Air Products and Chemicals, headquartered in Allentown, Pa., is creating a new manufacturing facility in Palmetto near Port Manatee. The company will build equipment that liquefies natural gas and will ship the huge machines worldwide from the port.
Overseas sales account for half of the volume of just one product line at Mustang Vacuum Systems, and more than two-thirds of sales for another. The company makes equipment that applies metal to plastic automotive parts, as well as machines that make solar cells. Destination countries include South Korea, India, China and Mexico.
For Florida's economy, exports shipped from businesses in the state are a substantial economic driver. In fact, in 2011, Florida ranked as the fourth largest export state in the country, and exporting businesses were responsible for employing more than 700,000 Floridians. The economic impact from exports is growing in the Manatee-Sarasota region. Between 2007 and 2011, exports from the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area grew 27.5 percent.
Exports are still a small segment of our local economy, but there is huge potential. Why should we care about recruiting businesses that export? Businesses that sell their goods and services outside the local market bring new wealth into the community, rather than simply circulating the same dollars around town. As these businesses grow and buy supplies, as their employees spend their wages, Manatee County's small businesses gain new customers and more sales.
The Bradenton area has proven its viability as a location for export-related businesses. Our region offers key elements that global businesses need: excellent access to interstate highways, international airports and a robust regional workforce. Manatee County gains a competitive edge with Port Manatee, available industrial and commercial properties and a business-friendly environment.
Add to those assets the successful case studies of global businesses that already call the Bradenton area home, and we can demonstrate that our new tag line is spot-on. We're eager and ready to tell the world's great businesses: "Think Global. Think Bradenton Area."
Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Manatee Economic Development Corp., may be contacted at info@ManateeEDC.com or 748-4842, ext. 128.