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The first full day of a three-day economic forum for Italian companies seeking business opportunities in the Toledo area began today with greetings from local officials and organizers of the event.
Immediately afterwards, the forum got down to business.
“Benvenuto,” Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said using the Italian word for “welcome” as he spoke to about 45 attendees at the morning session of the 2014 Italian Business Forum being held at the Park Inn by Radisson downtown.
“This opportunity is to show you why it matters where you make things,” Mr. Collins said, paraphrasing the slogan of the new Toledo brand initiative, "It matters where you make it."
Gionata Lazzaretti, a business consultant from Correggio, Italy, and a co-organizer of the event, said through an interpreter that when organizers began to talk about the forum “We didn’t think it would develop to the dimension it did.”
Mr. Lazzaretti said he was both “excited and optimistic” about what may come from the forum and that people from his firm, Still Italy, and 5 Lakes Global Group Ltd., another co-organizer of the event already were helping some of the 38 businesses at the forum learn what they need to know to do business in Ohio and Toledo.
Shortly after the opening remarks, visitors heard three presentations.
Italian attorney Linda Pignatti and staff members of her law firm, Caffagni & Pignatti, briefed attendees on the steps they would need to export goods or set up businesses in the United States.
Paul Toth, president and CEO of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, explained the importance of logistics and Toledo's proximity to 72 percent of U.S. households within just a 20-hour drive.
Lastly, Bart Pascoli, a project coordinator for the Italian Trade Commission, discussed the services the commission provides to Italian business looking to set up operations in the United States. America, he explained, is a key business partner for Italian firms, he said. "Italy is a country of just 60 million, the size of Arizona. But the U.S. is the second largest investment country for Italy right behind France," he said.
And why do business in the United States? "It costs less to manufacture in the U.S. due to energy costs," Mr. Pascoli said. "Companies save 30 percent off their operational costs in the U.S."
Scott Prephan, president of 5 Lakes Global, said the event is already ahead of a similar event held in September, 2012, that involved business representatives from China.
Mr. Prephan said the Italian companies at the forum were vetted before becoming coming to Toledo. “They all have legit business reasons for being here. They have business infrastructures in place so that they are ready to expand,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Prephan said organizers spent Monday showing one company potential sites for a manufacturing plant they wish to relocate. “They are very serious about this,” he said.
Mr. Prephan said that unlike the China forum, the Italian forum has the potential to reap tangible benefits right away.
“We’re not just here to put on a show,” he said.
After having lunch at Fifth Third Field, the Italian visitors will have a chance to tour either the facilities of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority or the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.