Italian visitors tour area to get feel for business
Forum closes with festivities, get-togethers
BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The three-day 2014 Italian Business Forum in Toledo this week ended Wednesday night with an odd mix of boxing, wine tasting, a pork roast, and music at the host site, the Park Inn by Radisson downtown.
But the underlying purpose of the forum — to encourage Italian companies to pursue business opportunities in Toledo — appeared to be well on track as the event drew to a close.
“We left a two-hour window each day for people to hold private business meetings,” said Scott Prephan, president of 5 Lakes Global Ltd. and a co-organizer of the event.
“We have four such meetings going on right now,” he said early Wednesday evening. “That’s the real meat on the bone,” Mr. Prephan added. “Some are discussing contractual issues and trying to determine ‘Can we conduct real business here?’”
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Many of the nearly 40 Italian visitors plan to remain in Toledo until this weekend and have additional private business meetings scheduled with Toledo companies, Mr. Prephan said. “Several have individual tours set up that they arranged — B2B [business-to-business] tours. So there’s a lot of activity going on,” he said.
The forum brought representatives from 38 Italian firms interested in potentially doing business in Toledo and Ohio. It was arranged by 5 Lakes Global and an Italian counterpart, Gionata Lazzaretti of Still Italy, a business consulting firm in Correggio, Italy,
Since Monday, forum attendees have spent time seeing key assets of the region, like the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority facilities, and learning about issues and barriers to doing business in the United States.
Mr. Prephan said that in retrospect, the event likely will be “more successful than I would have thought in the beginning.”
One company has met with economic development officials about sites where it might move a manufacturing plant from an existing U.S. location, Mr. Prephan said.
At an information session on legal and tax issues on Wednesday, “they wanted to know how long and what does it take to get started here,” Mr. Prephan said.
On Tuesday, groups of forum attendees toured the port authority facilities; the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, or cookie and cracker manufacturer Hearthside Foods in Toledo.
On Wednesday, groups got to see The Andersons’ Inc. facilities in the Toledo area, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Toledo Assembly Complex, or Bionix Development Corp., a maker of medical devices and equipment.
Eight attendees visited The Andersons’ grain operations in Toledo, its grain, nutrient, and rail car facility in Maumee, and its general store in Maumee.
Their guide was Dan Anderson, president of the Maumee agribusiness’ retail group. After the tour, Mr. Anderson said he saw some possibilities of doing business with some of the Italian food companies that sent representatives on the tour.
“What happens next will depend on a number of things,” he said, “but it did look to me like there’s some quality products.”
One of those products was porchetta, a pork product produced by Fa.Lu.Cioli.
Gianluca Cioli, president of the firm, came away very impressed by The Andersons. He said that his firm’s porchetta is sold in New Jersey, but he would like to expand, perhaps to Ohio.
“I think there are good prospects and very many opportunities here,” he said through an interpreter. Two companies that he would like to talk more with are The Andersons and the Marco’s Pizza chain, he said.
The Andersons store also left a big impression on Massimo Caffagni, an attorney affiliated with Still Italy. While perusing the store’s olive oil selection, Mr. Caffagni saw a familiar item.
“This oil,” he said excitedly, “the company is only 11 kilometers from where I live.”
Nearly half of the Italian visitors attending the forum chose to tour the Jeep plant — an opportunity that wasn’t available in 2012 when visitors from China were in town for a similar business forum.
Tracy Sallah, one of the event organizers, said there was a stronger business connection for the Italian forum because of Fiat’s ownership of Chrysler and Jeep. Chrysler executive Mauro Pino was a keynote speaker at a special dinner Tuesday night. Mr. Pino helped arrange the plant tour.
Mr. Prephan said Fiat Chrysler’s involvement was very helpful. “I think the primary purpose of Fiat’s participation was it helped make the Italian companies comfortable with the business environment here so that they might feel comfortable doing business here,” he said.
“When they can talk to their own countrymen about the long term and the present and what it’s like to operate here, they can get a sense of how it might be for them,” Mr. Prephan said