Pennsylvania trade missions can be a logistical challenge

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SANTIAGO, Chile -- The meetings of the Pennsylvania trade mission are filled with numbers: the size of the state's economy, the price of energy, proximity to the North American population.

But behind the scenes, another set of numbers makes those discussions possible. Over the course of five days in Brazil and five days in Chile, delegation members will have taken part in 220 meetings, according to Team Pennsylvania Foundation, the nonprofit economic development organization that coordinates the trade mission in partnership with the state. That includes 50 meetings with Gov. Tom Corbett, 14 tourism events, 63 Pennsylvania business meetings in Brazil and 93 in Chile.

Coordinating that schedule involves more than making appointments. Organizers had to scope out traffic patterns in unfamiliar cities, determining exactly how long it would take to get Mr. Corbett to meetings with the vice governor of Sao Paulo, the governor of Rio de Janeiro and, today, the president of Chile.

Organizers needed to determine when meetings could be conducted in English, and when remarks would need to be interpreted for speakers of Spanish or Portuguese. When a meeting between Mr. Corbett and the U.S. ambassador to Brazil was scheduled late in the game in Rio de Janeiro, organizers had to find a way to occupy the rest of the delegation in a city where, in town for a day, they had no home base.

"I liken these trade missions to a duck paddling," said Ryan Unger, chief operating officer for Team PA. "They look smooth above the water, but below the water there is a lot of furious work going on."

Ever since Brazil and Chile were chosen, about six months ago, staff members from Team PA, the state Office of International Business Development and the governor's office have been planning. That gave them significantly more time than Mr. Corbett's first trade mission, to France and Germany, when there were only three months to prepare, said Wilfred Muskens, deputy secretary for international business development at the Department of Community and Economic Development.

"That was very tight," he said,

On that trip, the delegation over five days visited Paris, Lyon, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart. This year, organizers recommended leaving more time for each city. While businesses sometimes broke off to meet potential customers, Mr. Corbett and much of the group spent Sunday through Thursday in S??o Paulo -- with the exception of a day in Rio -- and will be here in Santiago until they fly home tomorrow night.

Much of the logistical groundwork was done by Pennsylvania's authorized trade representatives, independent contractors to the state, in each country. The representatives, Fabio Yamada in Brazil and Veronica Medina in Chile, scheduled businesses to meet with potential clients.

They also recommended when interpreters would be needed. Many of the meetings were conducted in English, but not all. Early in the trip, Portuguese interpreters were on hand for a luncheon with tour operators and a reception at the residence of the U.S. consul general. At a luncheon here Friday, an interpreter walked along the room's perimeter as he whispered in Spanish and English into a small microphone. Participants listened through earpieces.

While Mr. Corbett travels with a security detail, members of which have participated in previous trade missions, local police forces are in charge of the governor's movements once in country, said Kevin Harley, Mr. Corbett's spokesman. The same practice of providing executive protection would apply if the governor of Sao Paulo traveled to Pennsylvania, he said.

In Sao Paulo, that local protection meant officers on motorcycles escorted the governor and delegation to meetings at the headquarters of Braskem, the Brazilian petrochemical company that invested in Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia. On the way back, cars honked as the motorcycle officers stopped rush-hour traffic to let the delegation pass.

But the Pennsylvania state police detail advanced the trip, and knew beforehand where each meeting was and how long it would take to get there, Mr. Harley said.

"They leave nothing to chance," he said.

On Tuesday, when the delegation flies home, logistics will again be in play, as Mr. Corbett and his wife, Susan, are moved in tight time frames and from separate places to the airport, where their check-in procedures will be expedited.

At the same time, staff needs to move the rest of the delegation, who will follow normal procedures, to catch their flights.

"Whenever you bring 50 people to a check-in line, you need to build in some time," Mr. Unger said.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com


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