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Economic Development team believes Brazil junket was beneficial

An economic development trip to Brazil proved to be a positive experience for state and local representatives, they say.

The weeklong trip (Feb. 28 – March 7) was designed to bring an economic boost to the region by strengthening ties with South American companies looking to expand or move to North Carolina.

Those attending the trip were: Lincoln Economic Development Association Executive Director Barry Matherly; Charlotte Regional Partnership President and Chief Executive Officer Ronnie Bryant; N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco; N.C. Department of Commerce International Trade Director Jean Davis; Sabo Executive Vice President Panico Peres; Cabarrus County Economic Development Vice President Ryan McDaniel; and N.C. Department of Commerce Existing Industry Specialist Uconda Dunn.

The group visited businesses and other officials in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two largest cities in Brazil.

Sao Paulo has 11 million residents in the city and 20 million residents in the metro area. In 2008, North Carolina had a population of 9.2 million people, less than half of Sao Paulo’s 31 million.

Brazil, Russia, India and China, often referred to as BRIC, are the four fastest growing economies in the world.

“South Paulo is bigger than New York,” Matherly said. “Brazil is just a huge country and it is one of the BRIC nations with its economy just firing up.”

The group visited existing businesses that already had operations in the state, including Sabo, which has a plant in Lincolnton. They toured the Brazilian plant and met with the company president, Jose Sabo.

Matherly had seen the Brazilian plant prior to this trip, but got the sense that his peers were equally impressed with the company.

“They were impressed not only with Sabo’s plant, but the fact of the global presence of Sabo because they are not only in the United States,” Matherly said. “They are all over the country.”

Afterwards, the group met with companies that did not have plants in North Carolina, but were interested in the prospect.

“Of the ones we talked to, most had already determined they needed a U.S. presence or might have had a presence on the West Coast somewhere, but needed an East Coast presence,” Matherly said.

“Most were already aware of North Carolina as being a good location, but they wanted more information about our state because it is not as well-known in Brazil.”

Lastly, the group interacted with organizations, such as the American Chamber of Commerce, that work with Brazilian and American companies.

The group encouraged the American Chamber to get organizations to visit Charlotte, especially since Charlotte Douglas International Airport offers a direct flight to Rio.

The American Chamber educated the group on how trade works in Brazil in an effort to help North Carolina companies that want to export goods to Brazil.

The group even got to meet with the largest film production company in Rio to discuss film opportunities in the Charlotte region.

Matherly said the film production company was surprised at the cheaper costs of filming in North Carolina than in more expensive states, such as California or Georgia.

“That was a meeting where they knew very little about film production in North Carolina, but when the connection was made, they were really interested in it,” he said.

Bryant, with Charlotte Regional Partnership, said the group was well-received by the Brazilian companies and officials.

“It was a really productive trip,” he said. “We feel exceptionally good about our ability to recruit more companies to Charlotte.”

Having Peres, a Brazilian native, was a tremendous help to the group, Matherly said. Peres planned most of the details, from where the group would stay to how long it would take to their destinations, he said.

The group is already planning a second trip back to Brazil. For Bryant and Matherly, the trip exceeded their original expectations.

“The more 2010 potential we’ve got, the better off we are,” Matherly said. “We not only met a lot of people, but to have met people who had projects or actual expansions that they thought would happen in 2010 is very good news.”