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(Paul Bubny is editor of Real Estate New York and part of a three-person team now covering the Philadelphia market.)

PHILADELPHIA-A Korean trade delegation was at the Union League Hotel here Monday, interacting with Pennsylvania manufacturers in an event hosted by the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The daylong event, which included “match-making” meetings between foreign buyers and local manufacturers along with a keynote speech from Wan Hee Kim, chairman of the Korean Importers Association, was the latest in a series of DCED efforts under the umbrella of Gov. Ed Rendell’s World Trade PA initiative.

“We periodically host what we call ‘inbound-buyer’ missions,” a DCED spokesperson tells GlobeSt.com. “They’re always welcome. As you would imagine, having representatives come to us saves thousands of dollars, tons of manpower and takes a fraction of the time compared to an overseas visit. This is a first, though, for the KIA. Our representative’s office in Seoul laid the groundwork and worked out logistics.”

Weitzman says some three dozen Pennsylvania manufacturers were represented at the meeting. “They run the gamut, including food, industrial machinery materials, metals, farm products, alternative energy, semiconductors, and related and synthetic fibers,” he says.

The KIA event was “about helping to sell Pennsylvania products in Korea,” says Weitzman. But, he adds, trade and foreign direct investment are linked.

“Generally speaking, trade comes before investment,” he says. “Often buyers will dip a toe in the water, see if there’s a market for a particular product, and then you start talking about factories and offices here…So direct investment here may happen, but indirectly.”

Reaching the global market is of “vital importance” to the state’s economic future, Weitzman says. “If it were a nation, Pennsylvania would have the 17th largest economy in the world. More and more companies are globalizing, and we want to make sure we’re part of it. “

To that end, he says, “We have 33 international trade representatives that cover about 50 overseas markets. Exports are an increasingly large percentage of Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product. Our gross domestic product is over $510 billion, with exports accounting for just under $30 billion in 2007—about 7%.”That figure represents a 10.1% increase over 2006, according to DCED.

Weitzman says DCED encourages Pennsylvania’s businesses to explore “what may very well be untapped potential. PA exporters, generally speaking, export to one or two markets—or maybe a handful. Given the weakness of the dollar and other factors, it is a compelling time for companies to look elsewhere for new overseas markets. If they haven’t taken stock recently, they should: Their competitive advantage may have increased, and they may be leaving business on the table.”

DCED offers an online Virtual Trade Advisor at patradeadvisor.newpa.com. “From the comfort of your office you can locate the best markets for your product with our market statistics reports and receive recommendations and help on everything from trade regulations to generating leads and finding grants and financing,” Weitzman says.

World Trade PA began in 2006, with Rendell proposing the initiative to increase Pennsylvania’s share of trade in foreign markets, attract new foreign direct investment to secure jobs and capital and leverage Pennsylvania’s extensive network of overseas university graduates to promote new business opportunities. It has borne fruit in the form of the decision, reported by GlobeSt.com in 2006, of Korean dental implant maker Osstem to build its first US operations on 28 acres in Bucks County.

More recently, UK-based Shire Pharmaceuticals last July revealed it would expand its US presence, creating 390 new jobs in Chester County within the next four years. “Our business-friendly tax structure and easy access to capital investment help businesses compete successfully on an international scale,” Rendell said at the time. “That’s why we’ve dedicated funding–through World Trade PA–to create new opportunities abroad and attract investments from other nations. Making targeted investments in companies like Shire also helps to strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy and to provide new opportunities for our hardworking men and women.”

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