Trade Mission: On South American trip, leaders tout city’s assets

The mayor of Sao Paulo, Brazil meets with Fort Worth and Dallas mayors.

A. Lee Graham

Approached by several inquisitive Brazilian executives during a recent summit in South America, Mayor Betsy Price and city economic development officials extolled the virtues and vision of Fort Worth as the nation’s fastest-growing city. “Three or four people came up to the mayor with business cards and said they were interested in doing business in Fort Worth,” said David Berzina, executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, speaking in a June 4 phone interview from São Paulo, Brazil. Berzina joined Price and other Texas delegates in visiting the Brazilian city as part of New Cities Summit 2013 from June 2-11, sponsored by the nonprofit New Cities Foundation. Focused on the potential of urban communities worldwide, the annual event provides a platform for city representatives to publicize all things Cowtown. “Dallas is well known for their shopping experience and offices, but in Fort Worth we’re well known for our quality of life,” said Price, also speaking by phone from the summit. She also pointed to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport as a key asset in luring companies to town and boosting the city’s economy through flights bringing executives in and out of North Texas. “Brazilians travel a lot, and we want them to be aware of Fort Worth,” Price said. With every hand they shake and every business card they receive, Price, Berzina and other area officials spark interest in their city, which mirrors São Paulo in some respects. While Fort Worth’s population of 777,992 pales compared with São Paolo’s 11 million inhabitants – “They make our gridlock look easy,” Price said – both face growth and transportation challenges. Asked whether Fort Worth can glean new insights on how to handle its transportation challenges, Price minced no words. “Not really,” she said. “They’re dealing with it like we are. They’re looking for solutions.” Fort Worth officials at the summit are drumming up tourism and trade interests among Brazilians. Aiding that effort is D/FW Airport, whose central location and proximity to several major corporations based in North Texas has led many companies to establish local operations. At least six companies at the summit have expressed interest in Fort Worth, Berzina said. “Six of them came up to the mayor and me and gave us information [about their companies] and asked about finding them a home.” By “home,” Berzina referred to a stateside office, not new headquarters. Companies that have expressed interest in Fort Worth include those specializing in fitness, agriculture and manufacturing, Berzina said. “One of those that talked to me was a company doing plant-based cosmetics and are looking to ship a plant and manufacturing area here,” Berzina said. That interest comes as American Airlines expands service between D/FW Airport and Brazil in June. The North Texas delegation is seizing the occasion to explain what Texas has to offer, both culturally and economically. While Price beat the drum for Fort Worth, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings did the same for his city. “We will work these projects together,” Berzina said of companies potentially interested in expanding into North Texas. “We might win half of them, and Dallas might win half of them.” The summit also includes stops in Rio de Janeiro and Lima, Peru. The 25-member North Texas delegation also includes Bernice J. Washington, a D/FW Airport board member; D/FW Airport Executive Vice President Phil Ritter; and leaders from the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau. They plan to continue meeting with government, business and civic representatives to promote North Texas and its biggest airport. “There’s no better way to develop international business ties than with new airline service to D/FW, and there’s no better place to do business than the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Rawlings said in a news release. “Through this air service development mission, our delegation will help bring more economic development to our cities, and will strengthen the ties between Dallas and Fort Worth and our neighbors in South America, both in Brazil and Peru,” Rawlings said. In April, American Airlines started daily nonstop service from D/FW to Lima and on June 14 is expanding its service from D/FW to São Paulo from seven to 12 flights per week. With the airport gaining 24 more international routes in the next five years, traffic is expected to continue to grow between D/FW Airport and Rio de Janeiro. Drumming up tourist interest, as well as potential business prospects, is easier with certain officials attending the summit, Berzina said. “It’s much easier to get businesses to meet with us when we say the mayors of Fort Worth and Dallas will be in attendance. It makes our jobs as trying to get meetings easier because they respect the office and they’re talking with both decision makers,” Berzina said.