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Brandon, Brazilian chambers join forces

A coming trip to Brazil for a trade conference exemplifies a new international spirit.

By ANDREW MEACHAM
Published February 17, 2006


BRANDON - In a partnership inconceivable two years ago, the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with newly discovered Brazilian neighbors.

This week, the Brandon chamber moved Jefferson Michaelis, president of the Brazil-Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, into its gleaming new headquarters on Pauls Drive, where construction dust is still settling.

It might seem an unlikely fit at first glance - local business and international trade. But Michaelis and the Brandon chamber have been talking about it for months.

"Every time a Brazilian person talks to an American business person," Michaelis said, "they can each see that it's for real, that there is something tangible here."

Both groups say the move is paying off.

Next Thursday, the Brandon chamber will also host Brazil's Miami-based consul general for breakfast followed by a tour of Brandon.

In April, an entourage of Brandon chamber members and Brazilians from Brandon will head to Brazil for a conference on trade. Thanks to a group rate Michaelis set up with American Airlines, each person will pay only $350 for airfare.

After a first night in Sao Paulo, the delegation will go to Campinas, an economic center 60 miles away that's home to 49 Fortune 500 companies, Michaelis said. There, the travelers will meet agents willing to market their products in Brazil. The group will tour several universities in the Campinas area.

Michaelis got his start in Brazilian-U.S. trade well before he founded his chamber. For 12 years he worked for an executive head hunting agency in Sao Paulo. Most of his clients got jobs with U.S. companies.

Michaelis, 38, later began consulting for American companies looking to establish themselves in Brazil. He learned that to be successful in Brazil, foreign businesses should participate in the local economy.

Michaelis moved to Sarasota in 1996 and started the Brazil-Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce in 1998. He moved the group to Brandon last fall.

When he tried to enlist other area chambers in trade with Brazil, nobody returned his phone calls. When a St. Petersburg Times article appeared in September about the group's plight, chamber president Tammy Bracewell called Michaelis for the first time.

In five months, membership in the Brazil-Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce has jumped from 79 to 176, Michaelis said.

The Brandon chamber heard from members asking how to set up businesses in Brazil.

"We got an e-mail from a Brandon person who wanted to open a manufacturing plant in Brazil," Bracewell said. "We also heard from a Brazilian person wanting to open a restaurant in Brandon and needed an accountant."

Since joining with the Brandon chamber, Michaelis has seen inquiries about trade with Brazil increase to four to six calls a week.

"We did not get these calls before," Michaelis said. "We are getting them now."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 16, 2006, 15:15:26]


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