Foreign trade zones offer local link to global business

Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 7:00 am By: Debbie Blossom

The Oklahoman

Tucked away at Oklahoma's waterways, air traffic hubs and industrial parks are its foreign trade zones, those U.S. Customs duty management programs that are boosting the state into playing a bigger and better role in the global economy.

Status as a foreign trade zone "is a sophisticated business tool" that allows companies that import and export to source, manufacture and distribute products cost effectively, said Matthew Weaver, chief administrator and director of marketing and business development for the Port Authority of Greater Oklahoma City.

Depression-era tools
The zones were created in the 1930s to encourage economic growth by the federal government in response to the Great Depression, Weaver said. Each site is a designated area considered outside of U.S. Customs territory where duties on merchandise can be de- ferred, reduced or, in some cases, eliminated.

The state has four major zones - the Port of Catoosa, the Port of Muskogee, the Port of Greater Oklahoma City at Will Rogers International Airport, and at the International Business Park in Durant.

Under the umbrella of those four zones, there are a number of subzone sites across the state.

Foreign trade zones are either public or private, and designated for single user or general purpose status.

The zones facilitate trade and increase the global competitiveness of U.S.-based companies, Weaver said, lowering inventory costs, providing distribution savings and drastically decreasing the cost of doing business.

His area covers the central portion, or about a third of the state, and his mission is to inform companies and communities about the benefits while helping them apply and qualify for the status.

"It's been around for a long time," he said, and today, as companies look at ways to trim costs while expanding operations, "we've got plants all over the state looking to get this designation."

Cities, too, can apply. The city of Shawnee wants its airport to be certified as a subzone. Enid also is applying, Weaver said.

Opportunity zones
When companies outside Oklahoma look to expand operations in the Midwest, he said, offering foreign trade zones is critical. "If you don't have them, you're not on the short list. It's a huge incentive for importers, and for Oklahoma City, it's a great retention tool."

There are 11 subzones in the state, "and there should probably be three times that many," he said.

In Mustang, IG Manufacturing is the latest Oklahoma location to be certified for the program.

It wasn't easy, said Dwight Perkins, IG's president, and it took four years for the company to receive subzone status.

Back to top