When it comes to promoting Florida agriculture, the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA) has a message for producers: Think global. The nonprofit organization helps companies in 14 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico sell their brand products in overseas markets. China, Mexico, Canada, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates are the largest importers of products produced by SUSTA members.
“It’s a big world and we provide opportunities for companies to expand and grow their businesses,” explains Whitney Lett, development representative II for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and activity manager for SUSTA.
SUSTA has two core programs: Global Events provide opportunities for members to meet with foreign buyers at events in the United States and abroad; and the 50 percent Cost Share Program reimburses up to half of the eligible marketing costs that members incur when promoting their brand products abroad to meet international standards.
SUSTA Executive Director Bernadette M. Wiltz calls these incentives “game changers” for small and midsize producers who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to compete with larger national and international brands.
“There are a lot of third- and fourth-generation farmers who want to do things differently and expanding into international markets helps them grow their family businesses,” Wiltz says. “These companies need SUSTA to help them be competitive at that level.”
Despite the success SUSTA has achieved over the last four decades – the nonprofit helped 35 Florida companies generate $72 million in actual and projected export sales of products ranging from fresh produce and seafood to value-added items last year alone, according to Lett – many companies aren’t aware the organization exists.
“I talk to a lot of companies who have never heard of us and are surprised at the amount of support we can offer,” Lett says.
“The message we’re always trying to get across is that SUSTA is here to assist,” Wiltz adds. “Companies need to know that they don’t have to enter the international market alone.”