Tri-county committee looks to open Asia for local, regional trade

South Florida Business Journal - May 25, 2007 by Julia Neyman

Fear of the unknown may be an excuse for using a night light, but it isn't a good reason for not doing business in Asia. South Florida's new Asia Committee is trying to take the mystery out of trade with Asia by building bonds with diplomats, hosting workshops and seminars and embarking on trade missions to the Far East.

Committee chairman Bernhard Schutte said the tri-county effort, organized under the Broward Alliance, should further expose South Florida to the world's largest and fastest-growing market.

"Usually if you don't understand something you think it's a threat," said Schutte, who often travels to Asia on business, owns property in Malaysia and has lived in Hong Kong. "I always believe, if you think someone is your enemy, go and check them out. Maybe it's a huge opportunity - that's what I've found."

The committee includes trade officials, county government representatives and professionals in the banking, real estate and construction sectors. Schutte owns global consulting firm DMNI, while vice chairs Al Redlhammer and Russel Weaver work in freight forwarding and international real estate, respectively.

The group will be the Broward Alliance's first sub-committee dedicated specifically to a region, said Bob Swindell, Broward Alliance senior VP of business development. But given the level of interest Florida has developed in Asia - and especially in China - this is the perfect region to start with, Swindell said.

"Everyone realizes that Asia is a good place to focus the energies of Broward's business," Swindell said. "We've probably focused more resources and business time and interest on the Asian market than any other market."

Trade with Asia is already booming: Port Everglades director Phillip Allen said China grew from the port's No. 3 trading partner two years ago to its second-largest trading partner last year. Trade and economic officials said key trade sectors include technology, medical and construction equipment and manufactured goods.

Schutte maintains South Florida's key advantage is geography: It is uniquely positioned to serve as a hub for trade between Asia and Latin America.

"Most Europeans have been using South Florida as a hub for many years, and we have to offer this to Asian countries," Schutte said. "Most Asian countries don't realize the importance of this area yet, but it's a no-brainer for this to work out of South Florida."

The key is to get large Asian companies to establish Latin America headquarters in South Florida, Schutte said. Another key is getting foreign governments to recognize South Florida's appeal. For example, a series of successful talks between South Florida and Malaysia resulted in the Malaysian government investing half a million dollars in a regional trade center in Miami last year.

John Diep, director of the Asia/Pacific region for Enterprise Florida, said South Florida's relationship with China is already strong and its ties to Indonesia, India and Vietnam are growing. He said domestic interest is mostly coming from small and mid-sized technology companies.

Schutte agreed that because Florida's main fortes are in technology and services, especially in relation to Latin America, the region should concentrate on building trade relationships in these areas.

"Most people draw on South Florida's service industry, whether it's accountants, lawyers, freighters, shippers or deal makers," he said. "There is no way any Asian country can penetrate the Caribbean or Latin America as quickly and efficiently as we can in South Florida."

Focus sectors for Asia Committee
  • IT
  • Medical and life sciences
  • Construction
  • Aviation
  • Environment
  • Professional services
  • Education
  • Real Estate
  • Marine
  • Logistics/support
ASIA COMMITTEE

Chairman: Bernhard Schutte
Phone: (954) 333-7777
Next meeting: 9 a.m., June 14th at Inverrary Resort, 3501 Inverrary Blvd., in Fort Lauderdale 33319
jneyman@bizjournals.com | (954) 949-7511