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Matching firms, foreign markets vital part of state’s trade plan

The way Mississippi Development Authority officials see it, helping to match businesses in the state with foreign markets is as practical as a financial planner advising a client to diversify an investment portfolio.

Exports_rgbMDA’s efforts include setting up meetings for Mississippi business leaders in foreign countries, organizing trade fairs and overseeing a network of representatives looking after the state’s interests in generating trade.

“By introducing Mississippi companies to international markets, we hope to help diversify their sales markets,” said William “Skip” Scaggs, head of MDA’s Existing Industry and Business Division.

The trade office’s educational, marketing and referral services are available to small and medium-sized companies who want to do business overseas. MDA’s goal is to grow existing businesses long-term, create jobs and add an international dimension to the state’s economy.

“We run the gamut from small offices with one or two people and small manufacturers up to your major employers,” Scaggs said.

“If you’ve got a competitive product that meets a need within the market here in the U.S., chances are that need is also somewhere around the world and we’d like to help them identify how to take advantage of those opportunities.”

The state’s trade overview compiled by the Bureau of the Census, shows that in 2012, Mississippi exports totaled $11.8 billion, a 7.8 percent increase from 2011. The exports were dispersed to 184 foreign destinations and are credited with creating 65,076 direct jobs.

“I think it’s been very successful when you look at the growth of Mississippi exports. Over the last 15 years we have continued to increase the number of firms exporting as well as the dollar value of what they’re shipping,” said Scaggs.

The top export commodities are led by mineral fuel and oil valued at about $4 billion. ATMs are second, valued at a little more than $1 million, followed by dye products at $928,000. Exports of electrical machinery by Peavey Electronics, Viking, Howard Industries, Triton and others ranks fourth at $815 million. The remainder of the list includes electrical machinery, cotton, vehicles, wood pulp, plastic, poultry and paper.

Hartley Peavey, founder of Peavey Electronics in Meridian, describes himself as a “road warrior” when it comes to doing business all over the world. He’s been doing it since 1972. “We sell to 136 countries,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of things.”

Peavey, whose company sells some 2,000 products, said there are “huge opportunities out there” but doing business internationally is “a whole different ball game” with rules and obstacles to overcome. But it’s worth it in the long run. “The bottom line: 96 percent of the world population lives outside the USA. To ignore that is stupid,” he said.

So who’s buying Mississippi products abroad?

Panama tops the list at $2.1 billion, followed by Canada at nearly $2 billion and Mexico is third at $1.2 billion.

“If you look at the countries that Mississippi exports to, seven of the top 10 markets have free trade agreements with the U.S.,” Scaggs said.

Another factor that put Panama on the top of the list is the expansion of the Panama Canal. “The money that’s being spent on that major project, in addition to the free trade agreement, helps drive demand that Mississippi companies are meeting,” Scaggs said.

The next international hot spot that Mississippi businesses could benefit from is Brazil, which is gearing up to host two major events: the World Cup next year and the 2016 Olympics.

“So there will be a lot of construction related to hosting major events like that and we are looking at how we can open doors to Mississippi companies to participate in that opportunity,” Scaggs said.

Gov. Phil Bryant will lead a trade mission there next month and meet with the Olympic Committee, promoting Mississippi products and services, Scaggs said.

“Hopefully we will be able to strengthen ties around both of those events.”

MDA will arrange appointments for company officials participating in the trade mission to Brazil to make their own pitches and contacts. A Commerce Department grant may help companies with promotion expenses for the trade mission.

“Despite the lack of a free trade agreement, Brazil still presents a very good market for Mississippi given the size of its population and sophistication of their economy,” said Scaggs. “They’ve got a budding automotive industry there, one that we think we might be able to tie in to.”

Japanese automakers Nissan and Toyota represent the biggest chunk of employment in Mississippi through foreign investments at 32 percent with 26,000 employees. Yokohama Tire Corp. will increase that number when it opens its West Point truck tire plant in late 2015.


Mississippi exports in 2012 were $11.8 billion, a 7.8 percent increase over 2011. Mississippi exported to 184 foreign destinations in 2012. Some of the top export commodities:

» Mineral Fuel/Oil (Ashland, Ergon, Loresco) $3.96 billion

» Automatic Data Processing Machines (Triton) $1.1 billion

» Tanning/Dye/Paint/Putty (du Pont) $928 million

» Electrical Machinery (Peavey, Viking, Howard, Triton) $815 million

» Cotton & Yarn/Fabric (StaplCotn) $708 million

» Vehicles/Not Railway (Griffin, Nissan, Toyota) $604 million

» Woodpulp (Georgia-Pacific) $476 million

» Plastic (Miss. Polymers, Sanderson Plumbing) $302 million

» Meat (Poultry) (Sanderson Farms, Tyson) $290 million

» Paper/Paperboard (GP, IP, Weyerhauser) $289 million




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