Prince George's County laid the groundwork for a possible state trade mission to Brazil in late spring, having sent a small delegation to a Rio de Janeiro information technology conference last week.
The delegation comprised Elizabeth Crittenden, the international business specialist for the county's economic development corporation, and representatives of three county businesses. Their trip ran from Sept. 1 to Saturday.
A major focus of the trip was introducing Brazilian businesses to Prince George’s through the RioInfo conference and thus establishing relationships that could lead to contracts as Rio prepares to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“At least 1,000 more foreign businesses now know about Prince George’s,” said Crittenden, who also speaks Portuguese. “For so long, we’ve been focused on business with Africa. Now, we’re looking at business with Asia and Latin America.”
She said the trip also “bore out amazing contracts” for businesses, including one information technology company, Ascellon in Landover, whose executives had 16 meetings on the first day. The trip also eased the opportunity for county businesses to present their capabilities during the state’s mission, Crittenden said.
“Due to Brazil’s continued economic growth, there is increasing need for business services in management consulting and information technology,” Ade Adebisi, CEO of Ascellon, wrote in an email to The Gazette. “Although things don’t move as quickly as in the United States and it takes substantial resources to establish a presence in the country, we feel it is worthwhile.”
Adebisi said he hopes to identify “concrete” partnerships and business opportunities within Brazil during the next few months as a result of the trip.
Ascellon has expertise in the health care and financial sectors.
State officials have been exploring a trade mission to Brazil after their trips to Vietnam, China, India and South Korea netted a combined $145 million in trade and investment deals for Maryland and participating businesses, according to state information.
But Prince George’s officials wanted to take advantage of the recent information technology conference and the state was not ready, Crittenden said. So the county set out on its own, with help from the State Department’s Office of Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs.
Although Crittenden’s agency opened up the trip to other businesses, many might have been hesitant to leave the U.S. during the prime federal contracting months, she said.
“They didn’t want to leave a known deal to pursue something that was unknown,” Crittenden said. Others were reluctant to jump into a trade mission that lacked many high-level politicians.
“We don’t need to be looking for opportunities [just] a year before the [Olympic] games,” Crittenden said.
While trade is shrinking among more established foreign markets, emerging countries are growing, she said.
“The argument is very strong for looking at the international market to offset the decline in the domestic market,” Crittenden said.
Brazil's $2.1 trillion gross domestic product makes it the world's seventh-largest economy. The nation expects to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure in the coming years.
Brazil also is among the key nations with which Maryland has focused on strengthening trade, including Russia, India and China.
Prince George’s businesses are primarily eyeing the information technology, construction, and beauty and health sectors for opportunities, Crittenden said. “There is a large untapped Afro-Brazilian market.”
Conrad Law, who was not able to pitch his Fort Washington online training business Knowledge Learning Solutions in person, worked through a proxy the county hired to help interested companies.
Xalles Ltd., a Washington, D.C., management consultant firm, helped companies prepare for the trip and schedule meetings. The company also spoke with Brazilian business executives on Law’s behalf.
“To do this all by yourself can be difficult,” said Rui Lopes, a business development manager with Xalles.
Xalles also modified other company marketing materials to better reach the Brazilian audience and helped with interpretation, he said.
“You can’t expect to go there and just do business. It’s a long, involved process. You go there to meet and learn,” Lopes said. “Ascellon and Elizabeth did a good job of promoting Prince George’s to Brazil.”
Xalles also worked with Bric, a Lanham investment company, during the trip.