Positive spin given to Pa. trade mission in Brazil and Chile

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SANTIAGO, Chile -- As the Pennsylvania trade mission wrapped up Tuesday, delegation members reported high hopes for the contacts made over 10 days in Brazil and Chile.

But organizers and legislative and corporate participants continued to say only time will tell how many of the meetings here in South America will result in new customers for businesses or new investments in Pennsylvania.

Promising reports circulated among the Pennsylvania representatives in the mission's final days. NovaTech, a company that manufactures precision meters used in utility substations, sent word it had already hosted a prospective Brazilian distributor at its Bethlehem plant. The owner of the Brazilian firm had been about to depart for New York and altered his plans to visit the facility.

Richard Somiari, president of ITSI Biosciences in Johnstown, said his meetings with hospitals, biotech companies and distributors resulted in requests for samples of his analytical and rapid diagnostic kits.

"In both countries there are people who want us to send them samples right now," he said. "The potential is huge. The export business to these two markets alone is significant."

Eventually, reports of promising meetings will be replaced with data on deals.

In a week or two, the state Office of International Business Development will begin following up with participants from the mission, as they do for the many trade missions organized each year, said Wilfred Muskens, deputy secretary for international business development at the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Like others, Mr. Muskens emphasized that deals take time. Just a few weeks ago, he said, a maker of French apple desserts, which had attended a session on Gov. Tom Corbett's trade mission last year, came to visit the Lancaster area to scout a site for its first U.S. manufacturing plant.

Based on feedback from companies along for the South America trip, Mr. Muskens said, the mission will result in at least several million dollars in new export sales and a like amount of investment.

"It's not a guessing game," he said. "We've done this for two decades. We know these trade missions provide a strong return on investment."

Throughout the mission, Mr. Corbett has headlined sessions pitching Pennsylvania as a location to prospective investors. Here in Chile, those meetings have included several prominent families.

"This is a country where there are people with a fair amount of wealth and they're looking to invest around the world," Mr. Corbett said. He added of the meetings: "It's planting the seed and getting them thinking about Pennsylvania."

Among possible subjects of investment, the governor said, are projects at the Port of Philadelphia, through which much of Chilean fruit imports enter the United States.

Robert Blackburn, senior deputy executive director at the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, said a meeting in Brazil, where port representatives were accompanied by Secretary C. Alan Walker of DCED, could result in new business for the port.

"We think we have a very, very good chance of landing a huge piece of business by the end of this year that will bring hundreds of thousands of tons of new cargo and great jobs, family-sustaining jobs, to the Port of Philadelphia," he said.

Port representatives also met with the Chilean fruit industry, he said, to maintain and try to increase their market share.

The Pittsburgh region had a representative focused on investment in each country. In Brazil, Dennis Yablonsky, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said he met with four prospects -- a water company, a health care organization, an energy company and an information technology company -- who expressed interest in considering southwestern Pennsylvania for a location.

"We have to get them to come to Pittsburgh, spend some time, narrow down their prospects, come back again," he said.

If discussions proceed, he said, it could take from six months to two years for a final agreement to be reached.

Victor Diaz, a member of the board of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said his time in Chile made him realize that the South American nation has strong ties with Pennsylvania, particularly in Philadelphia.

"Chile is obviously very far away from Pittsburgh," he said. "My focus personally with the chamber and trying to attract investment has been Mexico. I have more experience there, I know the landscape.

"However, not knowing that these relationships existed with Chile is making me think a little bit different," he said.

In addition to investments by Chileans in Pittsburgh, Mr. Diaz said the mission has made him consider the potential for Carnegie Mellon University or the University of Pittsburgh to recruit students from Chile.

Drexel University, the only institution of higher learning on the mission, signed agreements to collaborate on research and student exchanges with three universities in Brazil and one in Chile, said Julie Mostov, vice provost for global initiatives.

Mission participants said the support and connections of the trade mission allowed them to make contacts that otherwise would have been difficult.

"Getting connected with someone 5,000 miles away and having them show sufficient interest to talk to us about representing our product in Brazil is invaluable, and something that is difficult to do on our own," Ray Wright, NovaTech's vice president of marketing, said. "This immediate response may well save us months in setting up a sales channel."

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com.


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