Last Modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 11:03 AM
Jason Mitchell, the owner of a new contracting business in Lake Charles, learned that a few days in Central America can be good for business.
Mitchell ventured to Panama for a week this month along with other business leaders and government officials as part of a Louisiana Trade Mission.
The expansion of the Panama Canal along with the fact that the country’s economy grows 10 percent annually makes the country enticing to entrepreneurs looking to expand their markets.
“It was definitely worth the trip,” Mitchell said. “I made a huge connection with a big group there.”
Mission members visited Panama City, the country’s capital, and the Panama Canal.
During the visit, Louisiana delegates participated in industry briefings and met prospective buyers. Louisiana’s delegation set up a booth at a construction expo while in Panama.
David Conner, vice president of economic development and international services at the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said trade missions are important business development tools to anyone able to participate.
“If contracts happen, that is where they will happen,” he said. “I am aware of some contracts being signed. But I also know relationships were developed that will lead to future business.”
The mission was organized by the Alliance along with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Louisiana Economic Development office, Le Centre International de Lafayette and The Committee of 100.
Conner said individual business can attempt trade missions on their own, which some do. But there are advantages to participating in an American-sponsored trip.
“A trade mission gives credibility to American companies. And your tax dollars can be used to examine other countries and companies that are located in them. Through an embassy and U.S. agencies, you can get background checks that help you in vetting the companies you may want to do business with,” he said.
Traveling to another country to meet prospective clients is something Mitchell believes local businesses should be enthusiastic about.
He notes that differences in language and culture may make an American uncomfortable, but those factors can be managed.
“You have to think positive. I have big visions and big goals. I grew up around many nationalities while living in Chicago. Lake Charles can really set itself apart from the rest of Louisiana by embracing the fact we will be an international hub one day.”
Mitchell said Panama is a great country with beautiful cities and people.
“And there is infrastructure there and it’s growing. That alone spawns opportunity,” he said.
Conner said the expansion of the Panama Canal has direct implications for Louisiana and the lake area.
The waterway allows large shipping vessels — that could be carrying natural gas or oil — to cut transportation time during transnational trips.
“We went to understand the impact of the new capacity and just how it will have an effect on Louisiana,” he said. “And it will.”