Trade Winds: Exporters in South Florida

Sep 29, 2014


Two Super Post-Panamax Cranes await cargo and ships at PortMiami (Oct. 2013).
Credit Tom Hudson

It's a familiar saying among exporters -- South Florida is the shopping cart for Latin America.

From cell phones to gold, medicine to aircraft parts, it all leaves the United States from South Florida destined for overseas markets. While the pace of trade is down from a year ago, according to trade media company WorldCity, the seaports and airports here maintain a trade surplus.

That's a rarity in U.S. trade considering that for more than a generation America has been consuming more foreign made services and products than it ships overseas. It's strong ties to South America and the Caribbean that have allowed Miami exporters to boom.

Many of those exporters are small companies with a few to a few dozen employees. These are companies dotting the industrial and business parks surrounding the ports and airports. They make shaving cream like Collection 2000 in Doral or marine lights like SeaVision in Ft. Lauderdale. Surgical sutures at Miami Lakes's Demetech or they grow palm trees in, of course, Palm Beach County like Groundworks.

These four companies also rely on backing from American taxpayers to insure they get paid for their exports.

First, some data courtesy of WorldCity.  How important is the Miami Customs District to American exports?

How have Miami's exports grown over the past decade, even with a global recession?

And what about this trade surplus here? 

Seattle has been winning thanks to Boeing. Houston's surplus has developed thanks to a huge drop in imported oil.

A bottle of Hombre showcased at Collection 2000 in Doral. Collection 2000 exports beauty supplies it makes in Doral to 30 countries.
Credit Tom Hudson

Exports out of the Miami Customs District have dropped thanks to several issues including the Brazilian economic slowdown and less global demand for gold.

Small exports like Collection 2000 in Doral report stronger demand for their products.  Collection 2000 makes Hombre-branded men's products like shaving cream and deodorant. Company president Patricia Blasser has about a half dozen full time employees at her manufacturing facility in Doral.

Collection 2000 finds itself in the middle of a political debate that will be brewing. The company is one of the hundreds of South Florida companies using the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

The bank's charter was due to expire September 30 but it was given a nine month extension. Republican critics of the bank on Capitol Hill argue the bank distorts the market and there are charges of "corporate welfare."  While about 90 percent of the companies using the bank's services are small businesses, only about a quarter of the bank's financial resources go toward those small firms.

Giant companies like Boeing and GE use the bank, as does Collection 2000, medical supply maker Demetech, marine lighting company SeaVision and palm tree nursery Groundworks.

Those four South Florida exporters use the Export-Import Bank's credit insurance program. They pay a fee to have the bank insure business it does with foreign companies. If the foreign buyer doesn't pay their bill, the bank will pick up most of the invoice.

Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, tells WLRN there are four areas critics concentrate on: Does the bank take too much risk? Is the bank managed appropriately? Does the bank crowd out private lenders? And is the bank doing enough to help small businesses?  

"Exporters and companies are making their business plans out a year, two years," Hochberg says. "They're not doing it three, six or nine months at a time.  The most important thing is that businesses have certainty so that they can make investments."

WLRN contacted Florida politicians opposed to continuing the ExIm Bank.  Senator Marco Rubio's staff referred us to previous statements he has made, including this interview with Fortune published in June. 

The bank's extended charter is due to expire in June.