By Doreen Hemlock
Malaysia may not be a household name in South Florida yet, but the middle-income, Southeast Asian country is quickly boosting its business profile, a breakfast in Pompano Beach showed Thursday.
More than 100 people turned up before 8 a.m. to learn about the booming nation of 25 million people, following up on a recent Florida mission there that produced plans for Malaysia to open a trade office in Broward County and Nova Southeastern University to start educational programs in Malaysia.
William Zarit, a senior trade official at the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, pointed to significant U.S. opportunities in the New Mexico-sized nation that already ranks as the 10th largest trading partner for the United States. Last year, Malaysia posted the world's fastest-growing economy after China, expanding by 7.1 percent.
Zarit described the former British colony as "a kind of an oasis in southeast Asia," prosperous, stable and moderate. The United States is the biggest investor in the mostly English-speaking nation, with more than $25 billion in ventures from electronics factories to resorts.
"They're used to doing business in a professional way, and they like American products," Zarit told the breakfast meeting.
Florida companies can benefit from approaching multicultural Malaysia as a business gateway for all of Asia. Residents of Chinese and Indian background, for example, can serve as a bridge to those two giants nearby, said Bernhard Schutte, the Fort Lauderdale business consultant who organized the almost 40-member mission to Malaysia from Feb. 25 to March 6.
Indeed, Schutte already has started his own venture in Kuala Lumpur to do business in Malaysia and regionally, setting up a partnership between a Malaysian firm and his Fort Lauderdale-based Digital Media Network Inc.
The breakfast comes as Malaysia's government seeks about 7,000 square feet near Interstate 95 for a trade office that also would serve as a showroom for Malaysian products such as electronics and processed foods. The office would serve not only the U.S. Southeast but also the Caribbean and Latin America, Schutte said.
Doreen Hemlock can be reached at 305-810-5009.