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English accent for industry?

British leaders say they are interested in business partnerships in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


Nearly 500,000 English travelers visited Pinellas County last year, accounting for more than half of the area's European tourists.

The way the British government sees it, a half million tourists can't be wrong.

If this area is so popular with vacationers, perhaps businesses could benefit from coming here as well, the theory goes. To that end, British trade representatives are making overtures into the Pinellas business community, proposing partnerships and other opportunities potentially beneficial to both sides.

John Wright, vice consul at the British Consulate in Miami, met with county economic development officials and about a half-dozen businesses last week to float his proposals. Not only do British companies want to do business in Florida, but they want to expand their presence in Latin America and South America, Wright said.

Pinellas County provides a unique opportunity to accomplish both goals since the county's economic development department opened a satellite office in Mexico City on June 7.

"We act as a bridge to Europe as Florida acts as a bridge to Latin America," Wright said. "We've got two very big stable economies that should be working better together."

Wright said his office targeted Pinellas and Hillsborough counties because of the large British tourist presence. Pinellas also ranks seventh in the state in per capita income and buying power, Wright said. Four British companies already make their homes here: Smith Industries, an aviation equipment company in Clearwater; Danka Industries in St. Petersburg, which makes office equipment; Conax Corp., which produces electronic components in St. Petersburg; and Kreisler Manufacturing Corp., a St. Petersburg aerospace partsmaker.

Wright said smaller British companies prefer to invest in small businesses in the area rather than relocate here, at least at first. Also, those companies are looking for distributors in Florida, he said.

For instance, a medical equipment supplier in England can ship items in bulk to countries such as Brazil and Argentina. Smaller Caribbean nations cannot accept that many goods at once, but it is too expensive for British companies to repeatedly ship small amounts across the Atlantic.

It would be more efficient for British businesses to ship in bulk to Florida businesses, which could then store those items and periodically send them in smaller quantities to Caribbean nations. Because Florida is closer, it costs companies here less to do that, Wright said.

Also, local companies can take advantage of a relatively new program called TradepartnersUK, a network set up by the British government that encourages small- and medium-sized companies in England to do business with each other as well as with companies outside the United Kingdom.

About 55,000 companies participate in the program, which links buyers and sellers in more than 100 countries, largely through an Internet site (www.tradeuk.com or www.tradepartners.gov.uk).

Wright invited Pinellas County companies to join that network, which provides free the kinds of services that smaller businesses often cannot afford.

"It shouldn't be exclusive to big companies," he said.

Pinellas companies who attended last week's gathering said they were considering their options.

James Johnson, president of Appliances International Inc. in South Pasadena, said he is not looking for foreign investors and does not want to sell his used appliances in Europe because of different electrical voltage.

But he is interested in joining the TradepartnersUK network to find suppliers and to make contact with distributors in Latin American countries, where he hopes to sell his products.

"We may put ourselves into that database," he said. "The price is right -- free."

Robert Daugherty, executive vice president and general manager of Ditek, said taxes on imports make it difficult to sell products in England.

But his Largo company, which manufactures surge-protection equipment, may be interested in buying components from the United Kingdom that it cannot get elsewhere. He can find a list of suppliers easily on the TradepartnersUK Web site.

"We're looking for components all the time, and a lot of components these days are in short supply. Great Britain, if they produce it, that would be fine," Daugherty said. "We file this away under the heading of potential opportunities."

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