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Florida firms cash in on overseas business

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Emerging boating markets in the Persian Gulf and Russia offer prime opportunities for U.S. exporters

Although Florida has lost businesses to the Carolinas, where the defectors claim to have found the business climate more appealing, remaining Florida manufacturers are exporting overseas in record numbers — marine companies among them.

Some 44,000 Florida businesses export, giving the state the second-largest concentration of exporters in the U.S., with two-way trade of $115 billion, according to Enterprise Florida, Inc., a public-private partnership that is the state’s primary statewide economic development organization.

Total exports of ships, boats and floating structures reached almost $800 million in 2007, an increase of 20 percent over 2006.

Powerboats accounted for 39 percent of marine exports in 2007, an increase of 5 percent from 2006. Recent years have seen a shift — away from powerboats, toward vessels classified as yachts. Yacht exports grew by 31 percent in 2007, totaling $372 million, says Julie Balzano, director for Mexico and special projects for Enterprise Florida’s International Trade and Business Development Division. Balzano delivered that message to a meeting in Miami of the Marine Council and Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Florida was the only U.S. state exhibiting at the Dubai International Boat Show, with a group pavilion organized by Enterprise Florida. The show, considered the leading recreational marine industry event in the Middle East, attracted 27,000 visitors from 100 countries.

Statistics from Enterprise Florida indicate that exports from Florida to the United Arab Emirates have been registering annual double-digit increases. Dubai is Florida’s 31st largest export partner, with nearly $400 million in products shipped there from Florida each year.

Observers expect the show to grow quickly, as Dubai becomes a Mideast boating capital, with an emphasis on megayachts. The Persian Gulf nation has plans to add 52,000 slips to accommodate vessels of more than 35 feet that will be added by 2011. That figure does not include the facilities rapidly being added in nearby Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

“If you’re not looking at Dubai, you should be,” says David Nichols, a broker with International Yacht Collection. “The oil prices have made many [in the Persian Gulf] wealthier than they were. There is a lot of new Russian money out there and they appear to be spending it like water [on megayachts and charters].”

The Russian market for pleasure boating is rapidly developing. Balzano says the average annual growth in this industry sector is 25 to 30 percent, and that U.S. pleasure boat exports to Russia in 2007 exceeded $35 million — a 25 percent increase from 2006. Russian demand for pleasure boats makes the future for exporting even more promising, experts say.

Germany is Florida’s 10th most important export market with more than $1 billion in Florida products sent to Germany in 2007, including pleasure boats, sailboats and accessories.

“Germany currently imports more boats than it exports … making our products a bargain overseas,”

Balzano says. “Exporting takes a long-term commitment. China is Florida’s 21st largest export market. It is not just the U.S. taking imports from China. There are 550,000 new millionaires in China, and last year the Asian nation’s show had 170 boats on display.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue.

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