MANATEE -- Manatee County's port, the country's closest deepwater port to the Panama Canal, offers a gateway to businesses around the world.
So it's really no surprise that Manatee County entrepreneurs and corporations conduct business around the world, but what may be surprising is just how many global deals are brokered, planned and sealed right here.
To shine a light on that, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. has asked the County Commission to establish April 3 as Global Industry Day. The EDC wants to recognize Manatee County businesses that either have parent companies overseas or that sell their goods and services outside the United States.
The day coincides with a grand opening celebration at IRISS, a manufacturing business that has relocated to Lakewood Ranch from the United Kingdom. The company manufactures infrared windows used for inspecting industrial electrical equipment. It is consolidating its U.K.-based manufacturing operation and U.S. headquarters in Lakewood Ranch.
"The EDC has identified an emerging base of companies with strong global business relationships that provide high-wage jobs and bring new wealth into the community by selling their goods and services overseas," said Sharon Hillstrom,
EDC president and chief executive officer. "Through Global Industry Day, we want to highlight those businesses that demonstrate the Bradenton area's viability as a global business location."
And it's not just Manatee County that is seeing a surge from international business.
Exports shipped from businesses in the state are a substantial economic driver. In 2011 Florida ranked as the fourth-largest export state in the country, and exporting businesses were responsible for more than 700,000 jobs in the state. 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.
One of the county's most successful business leaders was an import himself.
Anthony Rossi established a small fruit packing business here more than 60 years ago. The company he founded grew to become Tropicana Products Inc. Today it is the world's leading marketer of chilled orange juice, distributing its products in 70 countries.
But it's not just old established companies that drive the Bradenton areas reputation for exports.
Hann Powerboats has grown its export business in just the last three years. The company has had so much success that it was the only Florida firm featured in the U.S. Commercial Service's Annual Report.
In 2009, Hann Powerboats had no international sales. Two years later, global exports accounted for 60 percent of the boat manufacturer's revenues, an achievement that earned the company an award from the U.S. Commercial Service. The company was recognized for opening new markets in Panama, Nigeria, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia.
Mustang Vacuum Systems has had great success in Asia. Overseas sales account for half of the volume of just one Mustang product line 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. The countries they export to include Korea, India, China and Mexico.
And it's not just tangible goods that count.
Feld Entertainment, which has been operating in Palmetto since 1992 and is setting up its global headquarters in Ellenton, presents live entertainment around the world.
The company produces the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, along with a host of other live shows such as Disney on Ice, and recently announced a partnership with Marvel Entertainment to produce alive arena show featuring Marvel characters.
And the area doesn't just export.
IMG Academy's growing campus annually attracts 200,000 athletes, coaches, event participants and spectators from 100 nations. Athletes come here for its world-class facilities, expert instruction and innovative training programs. Elite athletes such as Maria Sharapova and Cam Newton return to IMG Academy to maintain their competitive edge, helping reinforce the Bradenton area's image as a North American sports performance hub.
The Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch is also magnet for visitors and athletes from around the world.