News Column

Top 50 Exporters: In Volatile Market, Food and Green Companies Lead the List

Hildy Medina--Associate Editor, HispanicBusiness Magazine

Jorge Ramirez, CEO and president of Heateflex
Jorge Ramirez, CEO and president of Heateflex

Even at a time of economic upheaval in the United States, the Top 50 Hispanic-owned export companies proved last year that domestic goods can sell in the global marketplace. Thirty-two companies on this year's list reported double-digit gains in export revenues. Leading the growth were companies like Compasa LLC, which saw revenues jump to $53.5 million in 2007, a whopping 235 percent increase over the prior year. The McAllen, Texas-based meat and grain exporter enjoyed the fastest growth of any company on the list.

U.S. food exporters overall enjoyed a banner year in 2007. They benefited from the growth of "hypermarkets" or high-volume grocery stories, as well as vibrant emerging markets in countries like China, India, and Vietnam. "No doubt U.S. food exports will continue to grow," said John Keeler, CEO and president of John Keeler & Co., a blue crab meat exporter and No. 42 on the list. "Many underdeveloped countries are rapidly becoming more developed, with more cash than they could ever dream of. Nine years ago, in Vietnam, you would have 100 bikes for every one motorcycle; today for every 100 motorcycles, you'll find 25 Mercedes. China's another example." Export revenues for the Miami-based firm rose nearly 12 percent in 2007. This year, Mr. Keeler began exploring opportunities in the Middle East. "They have a taste for anything different," said Mr. Keeler. "They certainly have the money."

Statistics Don't Tell The Whole Story

In one way, the growth statistics regarding exporters don't tell the whole story this year. While the overall revenue for the Top 50 actually decreased by 3.8 percent compared to 2006, that step-down in total revenue, the third such drop in the list's 13-year history, was due primarily to a drop in sales by one company. The giant cellular telephone distributor, Brightstar Corp., which is the largest Hispanic-owned business in the U.S, exported $183 million less in 2007 than 2006. This Miami-based firm's slowdown had a significant dampening effect on the overall numbers because Brightstar's export sales represent more than 78 percent of the Top 50 directory's total revenues.

Hi-Tech And Green Exports

Many other exporters, however, enjoyed a good, if not spectacular year. Companies like Heateflex Corp., a maker and supplier of state-of-the-art heating equipment benefited from the growth of foreign high-tech manufacturers. "Much of this (IT hardware) manufacturing is now being done overseas," said Jorge Ramirez, CEO and president of Arcadia, California-based Heateflex, No. 35 on the list. Heateflex's overall export sales rose 15 percent last year.

Also noteworthy was the sudden jump in green exports. "There is new activity in the solar industry," said Mr. Ramirez, whose company also supplies heating equipment to solar panel manufacturers. "There is a lot of money being poured into solar panels. The German government is strong in promoting that industry, and that is having an impact in other places. There are a lot of new factories going up in Europe and China."

Florida Retains Dominance

Florida continues to retain its edge as the favorite home of export companies, hosting 25 of the Top 50 Exporters. Miami serves as the unofficial U.S. capital of export activity. Florida accounts for $3.3 billion, or more than 80 percent of all Top 50 Exporter revenue. Texas and California follow with six companies each, but California is second on the export revenue total.

Bright Future

Although exporting can involve a greater degree of volatility than purely domestic operations, the current economic climate remains an opportune time to grow or build an exporting business, say experts. "I think it's a great time as long as you're looking at long-term business, not a quick fix, to bring dollars in," said Jaime Sigal, president of Trexco Inc., a Plantation, Florida-based export management firm. "It behooves the exporters to look at this opportunity outside the U.S. With the weak dollar, you're going to be more competitive at a time when the economy in the U.S. is getting tougher by the day. Why not look outside where you don't have as much competition and you can get into a niche market and be more of a leader than a follower?"

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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