South Florida exports boom, creating jobs
May 05, 2012|By Doreen Hemlock, SunSentinel
With the U.S. economy recovering slowly, more South Florida companies are turning to sales overseas, fueling record exports and adding jobs.
South Florida is the only U.S. area whose ports consistently ship more to foreign ports than they bring in. Port Everglades now ranks as Florida's top seaport for exports, U.S. commerce statistics show.
Associated Aircraft Manufacturing and Sales Inc. of Fort Lauderdale illustrates the export boom. It makes and sells parts for aircraft, including electronic systems for military planes.
Since 2010, the company has grown from 52 to 85 employees and from roughly $25 million to $40 million in yearly revenue, thanks to sales mainly to the Middle East and Asia, Chief Executive Frank Lannon said.
"To export, you have to make the investment to study foreign markets, learn what buyers want and adapt products to meet those needs", Lannon said. "You can't sit and wait for someone to come to you. You have to go out and sell yourself."
Custom Biologicals of Deerfield Beach grew from eight to 11 employees last year, thanks to sales mainly in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Ecuador. One top-seller: bacteria that help plants grow bigger and faster. The product has been used by growers who set world records for giant pumpkins in the last two years, each pumpkin weighing more than 1810 pounds, said the company's executive vice president, Chuck Baugh.
Exports now account for roughly 70 percent of Custom Biologicals' sales, up from 53 percent in 2010. Revenue set a record last year and is rising this year too, likely requiring more hiring, Baugh said.
A weaker U.S. dollar has stoked overseas sales, making U.S. goods cheaper in other countries, exporters said.
More competitive prices help explain why South Florida seaports and airports shipped a record $69.2 billion in goods to foreign ports last year, or $25.7 billion more than they brought in. South Florida exports jumped 18 percent for the year, faster than the 16 percent gains nationwide, according to Coral Gables-based publisher WorldCity.
Through February, South Florida exports kept climbing: up 11 percent from a year earlier, slightly faster than the U.S. average, WorldCity said. Among top shipments out: high-tech equipment, including cellphones and computers; heavy equipment for construction; medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. Many items are made elsewhere and transit South Florida for sale in Latin America, WorldCity President Ken Roberts said.
The Obama administration in 2010 set a goal to double U.S. exports in five years, creating up to 2 million new jobs. Numerous programs are now available to help small- and mid-size companies boost sales overseas.
For South Florida businesses looking to increase exports, WorldCity's Roberts and other experts advise:
Do your homework. Research specific markets. Study where competitors sell overseas.
Talk with people active overseas. Florida's bi-national chambers of commerce, such as the Brazilian-American Chamber, can help.
Make a commitment to export. Invest time, money and staff.
Set up financing. To get paid, consider requiring payment in advance, or work with lenders to help buyers finance purchases.