When people think about economic development offices, they usually imagine overseas trade trips, tax credits and the occasional press release touting a new company complete with foggy economic outlooks.
But there’s a lot more to the work county and state agencies do to create business opportunities than selling locations and offering incentives to lure out-of-town businesses. In Pasco County, for example, one of the main focuses of the economic development office is an international program that not only tries to get companies to do business in the county, but also helps teach locals how to find markets overseas and become exporters.
'Once you get past the cultural nuances, business is business. As a matter of fact, Americans are probably the only ones that call international business international business. The rest of the world just calls it business.' Bill Cronin, president and CEO of Pasco EDC
Pasco EDC’s focus on international outreach is divided between two areas. One is finding direct investments and recruiting. The other is the trade and export program that, in part, helps companies grow internationally. The goal of the export program is to find companies that have an ability to expand internationally and help executives there realize those opportunities.
Bill Cronin, president and CEO of Pasco EDC, says it’s often a matter of teaching business owners about opportunities they aren’t even aware exist.
He uses the example of a company that sells beach towels. That company may see itself as a seasonal business, selling its towels in Florida during the summer. But that company can actually double its sales by offering its towel at Australian beaches in the winter.
What his office looks for when trying to identify businesses, Cronin says, are companies that have the potential — products and infrastructure — to expand into those new overseas markets. One sign a company could make it as an exporter, he says, is if it already ships products. A company already shipping to Sarasota can probably make the adjustments needed to begin shipping to the Caribbean just as easily, he says.
What the Pasco EDC will do is teach that company about how to expand the shipping and how to look at its options, and it will then make the introductions to potential clients overseas using an established network and existing relationships.
Becoming an exporter is tougher than just finding shipping methods and clients, though.
A company must be able to withstand changes in the business cycle to succeed as an exporter. A critical factor is understanding that the sales process may take longer because of the distance and being prepared to cover costs while waiting for payments. “The important thing is to look at what their capabilities are,” Cronin says.
He says one of the first questions the office asks the business is who makes decisions and how they are made. To succeed as an exporter, a company needs to have someone in leadership dedicated to international sales and who can make the decision to spend the extra money on shipping and on marketing, often, in other languages.
Understanding the business cycle and having the right decision-making process in place is the hardest part about expanding globally, Cronin says.
“You would think it would be language, understanding of markets and things like that,” he says. “But once you get past the cultural nuances, business is business. As a matter of fact, Americans are probably the only ones that call international business international business. The rest of the world just calls it business.”
One company that took advantage of the county’s efforts is Morganna’s Alchemy, a manufacturer of all-natural skincare products. Maya Williams, founder and CEO of New Port Richey-based Morganna’s, says about 80% of its sales are done overseas.
Morganna’s currently sells to distributors, wholesale and directly to consumers online in several countries including Poland, France and Estonia. She also deals in the Caribbean — where there were disruptions in sales because of the pandemic that the Pasco EDC helped navigate in Zoom meetings.
Over the years Williams has used several of the resources offered by the economic development office and state and federal agencies it partners with to expand her business. That help has included getting grants to attend international trade shows and matchmaking programs to find customers.
The relationship in the past several years, she says, has been “excellent” in large part because of economic development’s bigger efforts to push exporting in the county. One sign the EDC's efforts are paying off is how the local post office smoothly handles international deliveries now. Williams says when she was getting started, she’d be the only person in line shipping a package overseas.
“That was a serious issue for the post office. They didn’t even know how to fill out the forms and things like that, what it would cost etc. etc.,” she says. “It was like a completely foreign thing to them.”