Polk County manufacturing and other companies that want to take an international route to market and business growth soon will have a new partner in their corner.
The formation of the Polk Global Trade Alliance (PGTA), a new business-building organization, was a major announcement on May 20, 2016 during the second annual Polk Goes Global 2.0 international trade conference in Lakeland.
David Petr, president and CEO of the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC), focused on the trade alliance during his conference remarks, saying the new organization aims to tap into the huge potential for Polk County business development.
An advisory board of business, education, community, and economic development representatives will convene the international trade alliance’s first meeting at 2 p.m. today, June 2, 2016, at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale.
“Polk County already has a strong base of international trade with cattle, citrus, and other agricultural exports, but the county’s potential for further trading globally is far from being fully tapped,” Petr said. “Polk’s strategic location in relation to Florida ports, a free trade zone in the middle of the Tampa/Orlando area, and the development of the CSX intermodal logistics center in Winter Haven, puts the county in a perfect position for international distribution of products manufactured or sold here.”
Current economic statistics, including those from the U.S. Department of Commerce, show that exports are a major component of the Central Florida economy. “Last year, Polk County businesses exported about $2 billion in goods and services throughout the world,” Petr said. “While this is a significant number, we believe community and economic-development opportunities could be enhanced by becoming fully involved in international trade activities.”
The Brookings Institution reports that exporting created 9,385 jobs in Polk County last year and that the county’s export growth has been 1.2 percent since 2008. Chemical manufacturing is the primary generator of Polk’s export revenue, pulling in 73 percent of the county’s total export dollars. Leading Polk sectors for exporting include fertilizer, agriculture, freight and port services, food products, nonmetallic minerals mining, transportation equipment, machinery manufacturing, and medical supply.
“All of these Polk County industries are well established here, yet there is room for growth, and effective exporting to any number of international markets makes that growth possible,” Petr said. “Additionally, the land, the shovel-ready business parks, and the business support infrastructure are already in place in Polk to encourage growth among the exporting industries here now and to attract new exporting companies to the area.”
The PGTA may provide trade-boosting education, mentoring, marketing, and other resources; lead international trade missions; and host inbound foreign trade delegations. Alliance partners are expected to include local economic development organizations, colleges and universities, chambers of commerce, Visit Central Florida, government partners, the business community, Polk’s four general aviation airports, the Polk County Farm Bureau, and many other trade-related agencies and organizations.
The momentum to form the PGTA is the outgrowth of a newly reinvigorated countywide interest in international trade and development of the infrastructure and business base to support it.
When the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the first Polk Goes Global exporting conference in 2015, many in the business community were re-energized to pursue exporting opportunities. The Chamber established an international trade committee to explore what assistance could be offered to companies interested in plying world markets. “The CFDC was asked to partner with the chamber committee because of its past experience in this arena,” said Jim DeGennaro, a CFDC consultant with more than 30 years of economic development expertise in Polk County.
“The board of directors of the Central Florida Development Council and our numerous partners from throughout the county are extremely excited about the Polk Global Trade Alliance’s prospects for strengthening our companies’ bottom lines through increased exporting and protocol experiences,” Petr said.
For details about the trade alliance and global trade opportunities for Polk County businesses, contact the CFDC.