Florida offers grants for Colombian show exhibitors

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Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, is offering grants to Florida marine businesses to exhibit at the USA Pavilion at the March 21-23 Cartagena International Boat Show in Colombia.

The pavilion, hosted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, offers turnkey booths for about $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the booth size and whether the exhibitor is an NMMA member. Enterprise Florida will award qualified companies a grant of as much as half the cost of a booth, to a maximum of $6,000, said Larry Bernaski, Enterprise Florida regional manager for international trade development and marine industry exporting.

Bernaski, based in Jacksonville, said qualified companies must be at least two years old, make their product in Florida and be Florida-registered. Enterprise Florida gives preference to manufacturers or exclusive manufacturers’ representatives in awarding the grants.

Bernaski said marine products are one of six target sectors eligible for overseas trade show grants designed to encourage Florida exports. The other sectors are information technology, aviation and aerospace, homeland security, clean energy and life sciences.

He said marine business is the second- or third-largest sector in the state.

Grantees must be small businesses, as the U.S. Small Business Administration defines them. “The rule of thumb is 500 employees or less,” he said.

Colombia has the fourth-largest economy in Latin America and the third-largest population. In 2012 the United States and Colombia launched a free-trade agreement that resulted in 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia entering the country duty-free immediately. Colombia’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Tourism has made the promotion of nautical tourism –- visits by yachts, sailboats and charters –- a top priority.

Brazil has been Florida’s No. 1 or 2 trade partner for the past eight years, yet the country imposes heavy tariffs on imports and burdensome taxes and restrictions on foreign businesses operating there, Bernaski said. “A lot of people are hoping [the free trade agreement] will open a lot of doors to exports to Colombia,” he said.

Bernaski said Enterprise Florida’s brief in the trade arena is to encourage Florida companies to export and to diversify their exports to multiple foreign markets.

“The vast majority –- 90 percent –- of exporters are only selling to one or two countries overseas,” he said. If an exporter sells in multiple markets, when one is down, others pick up the slack.

He said trade shows are a way to make contacts, not just sell products. “In my experience the most successful long-term exporters are those who have a presence overseas,” he said. That success is based on personal relationships.

Enterprise Florida also awards grants to Florida marine businesses that exhibit at shows in Dubai, Cannes and Taiwan and at the Marine Equipment Trade Show in Amsterdam, but Bernaski usually won’t award a grant to a company to attend a particular show more than twice in a row.

“We would prefer companies new to a market, new to a show, companies that are infrequent exporters,” he said.

Bernaski can be reached at 904-359-9350 or lbernaski@eflorida.com.

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