Gulfport has become the number one fruit terminal in the U.S., thanks to landing a contract with Urbana, and products shipped overseas from Mississippi have become more diversified.
Gulfport passed Wilmington, Del. as the number one fruit terminal with the signing of a contract with Urbana, a fruit company based in South America, said Liz Cleveland, manager of the International Trade Office of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Urbana put Gulfport over the top,” Cleveland said. “The development of the port of Gulfport holds the greatest potential for us with trade in Latin America.”
The Mississippi Center of the Americas, a program developed by the trade office, includes an aggressive marketing plan combining efforts of the port and MDECD to attract new shipping lines, identify and market the port nationally to importers and exporters, and attract distribution investment from around the world.
“If you look at a map, we are located in the exact center of the Americas and have deep water ports directly on the Gulf, something New Orleans doesn`t have,” Cleveland said. “We are the prime choice for products from anywhere in the world coming into the Americas.”
More than 250 shipments were attributed to Mississippi companies over a 10-month period in 1997. Port director Tony Taormina negotiated contracts with Dole.
Diversity of products shipped overseas has evolved with the addition of exporting value-added goods, Cleveland said.
“Mississippi has been a primary exporter of raw materials, from logs with no processing at all, to very basic chemicals,” she said. “We have taken products and further processed them for different types of applications, such as wood products. Instead of shipping logs, we`re shipping furniture.”
Poultry, once processed in its basic form, is exported to a world market with the addition of microwave entrees, in 12 to 14 different cuisines – from Caribbean to Cajun and different European tastes across the board, she said.
Mississippi-based American Poultry International, owned by Bob Anthony, is a company that has worked to build new markets for Mississippi products.
“Bob started out courting the USSR when nobody could do business with them,” Cleveland said. “When the wall in eastern Europe came down, he developed markets as they came on line. So one customer became many when he negotiated business with all of the newly independent republics.”
The U.S. is the only country in the world where white meat is preferred and dark meat is considered a by-product, she said. “Poultry that is exported is dark meat and leg quarters. It gives us a chance to sell by-products and sustain the white meat market in the U.S.”
Mississippi`s top export markets are located all over the world and are not concentrated in any one area.
“It`s extremely beneficial to have a diversity of markets, given the volatility of world economics,” she said. “We promote furniture in Latin America, Asia and Europe. We promote everything in Canada, our biggest exporter. We are exporting less of our natural resources and more of our value-added products, which was our plan.”
Local and international banks are helping finance international transactions, a service that was not available in the state until a few years ago. Most international banking services required trips to New York or Chicago, Cleveland said.
Export receivables insurance, which is offered through MDECD, is a tool available for exporters to help insure international receivables, she said.
About 1,100 companies are listed in the MDECD database, from small manufacturers to Peavey Electronics and Howard Industries. The biggest investor country is the United Kingdom – 20 companies there have Mississippi operations; there are 17 in Canada, she said.
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