Industry Today: Jobs First Mission

Whenever a high-profile politician, especially one with the influence of Tom Corbett, heads overseas for an extended amount of time, cynicism is certainly bound to follow. “Nice vacation I’m paying for,” may be one of the prevailing thoughts among skeptical taxpayers.

But the Pennsylvania governor insists there was little time for relaxation when a delegation of state officials and business leaders recently flew to Brazil and Chile for a 10-day, two-country “Jobs First Mission” trip that helped kick open doors to untapped markets, fresh investments, economic growth, increasing port traffic, and stirring job creation for state residents.

Even better for taxpayers: Team Pennsylvania Foundation, a nonprofit that works with government and businesses to promote economic growth, paid for all expenses.

Through an endless round of sessions with executives and dignitaries in both countries, Corbett and representatives of various businesses, manufacturers, and development groups detailed how welcoming Pennsylvania can be to South American businesses. After all, a professional and enthusiastic sales pitch is more effective face-to-face than through a phone call.

“I led this delegation to Brazil and Chile to open new doors for economic growth and job creation and to keep Pennsylvania at the forefront of international business development,” Corbett says. “With more than 15,000 Pennsylvania businesses currently selling goods and services abroad supporting nearly 400,000 jobs here at home, exports will continue to be a critical component of our economy.”

Handshake agreements
Before the trade mission, Corbett said that many of the same industries expanding in Brazil and Chile are also growing in the Keystone State, adding that he has seen many potential investment prospects come in from both nations, including companies that manufacture:

  • Medical devices
  • Mining equipment
  • Construction and logistics
  • Food
  • Communication technologies

Emphasizing the state’s ideal location, reasonable energy costs, and growing workforce, Corbett quickly capitalized on those similarities by helping industry leaders shake hands on a number of agreements, including:

  • NovaTech LLC, a Quakertown, Pa.-based manufacturer of power measurement, communication, and automation technologies, establishing an alliance with Grupo SCR, a systems integrator in Brazil;
  • Composer and performer Paulo Padilha leading a Brazilian music ensemble in a week-long educational and performance residency in Pennsylvania in the fall of next year;
  • Wipro Infrastructure Engineering, a hydraulic cylinder manufacturer, hiring 74 people when they establish a new US-based manufacturing residency in Chambersburg, Pa.;
  • Inking a joint declaration with Gov. Sergio de Oliveira Cabral Santos of the state of Rio de Janeiro to strengthen trade ties and develop new economic opportunities for job creation in both states.

Other manufacturers who accompanied the governor gave a thumbs-up when interviewed by Industry Today.

Take, for instance, Dan Berent, president of Regenex Corp. in West Middlesex, Pa., who went on the trip to “plant some seeds.” Those seeds sprouted before he even returned home, courtesy of a call from a client in Chile, a region that had not yet seen the extruded, recycled, rigid vinyl products his company manufactures at a fraction of the cost of steel or concrete competitive systems.

“If this project comes through, that would be a big boost for our company,” Berent says. “For an $8 million dollar company to pick up almost a half of a million dollars in sales from one project, that’s a big deal for us.”

Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp. at the Port of Philadelphia, echoed similar sentiments, saying, “We already have booked several shipments of food products resulting from acquaintances we made in Brazil.”

Anahi Wigfield, an international account manager who represented Tipton, Pa.-based New Pig Corp., says she was able to meet with quite a few prospective clients that she believes will provide her company with opportunities to grow in Latin America.

“Although certain trade barriers make exporting to Brazil difficult for us, we have identified partners who are willing to assist us in navigating the regulatory and logistical complications of conducting business there,” says Clark Stapelfeld, director of international business development at New Pig. “While it is too early yet to estimate the dollar value of the potential business generated by this trip, we are confident it will have been worthwhile.”

With the new energy boom occurring statewide with the development of the Marcellus and Utica Shale gas formations and robust mining and energy industries in Brazil and Chile, there was also tremendous potential for Pennsylvania energy supply-chain firms to make connections with manufacturers in both countries.

“The Brazilian and Chilean governments also had a strong interest in learning more about Pennsylvania’s legislation to regulate shale gas development, which takes a balanced approach to ensure environmental responsibility while not deterring economic growth,” state Department of Community and Economic Development spokesperson Steve Kratz says.

Only time will tell
After returning home, state politicians and manufacturing leaders told Industry Today that attracting international companies to Pennsylvania and finalizing agreements from South American prospects will “take some time.”

“This kind of trip, it should be noted, is a way of sowing the seeds of relationships that also take time to develop, and gratification is rarely instant,” Holt said. “Our family company philosophy has always been to make and nurture long-term relationships.”

However, history is on Pennsylvania’s side. According to Kratz, Corbett led a similar delegation on a business development mission last year in Europe, meeting with 335 total prospects that generated at least 16 new leads and 10 active projects, with French and German companies recently coming to Pennsylvania to evaluate potential sites and meet with state and regional economic development partners.

Successfully completed projects that resulted from the mission include:

  • Hydrotechnik signing a lease in Sewickley, Pa., which is expected to create at least 15 new jobs;
  • Alstom Grid creating 10 jobs when they move their US headquarters from Washington, D.C. to the International Plaza in Philadelphia;
  • B. Braun’s new Admixture Pharmacy in Lehigh County, Pa. creating 70 jobs.

Likewise, the following are expansions of companies already in the state who Corbett met with on last year’s mission:

  • ANSYS investing more than $60 million to expand its operations to Washington County, adding at least 181 new jobs in three years;
  • SAP in Delaware County planning to add 500 new jobs.

On the trade side, 34 total business-to-business appointments took place and at the three-month mark, seven trade agreements are already under consideration and an estimated $1.25 million in new export sales have been generated.

Will this year’s trip yield similar results? Wait and see.