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Pasco, Chinese firms ink trade deal

THE TAMPA TRIBUNE
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 11:54 AM

A day after President Obama addressed the United Nations about climate change, a small Pasco County company on Wednesday detailed a trade deal with China that company officials say could change both China's energy use and the Suncoast job market.

Dais Analytic builds an air filtration system that reduces the amount of energy required to heat and cool homes and commercial buildings. That, in turn, can reduce the demand for power plants and the climate-changing pollution they emit. China recently passed the U.S. as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

At a time when imports make up the bulk of the United States' trade with China, Dais struck gold by blending high technology and energy efficiency - two things high on China's list of priorities, said Hongling Han-Ralston, a Tampa attorney who specializes in trade with China.

"These are all good things to sell to China," Han-Ralston said.

She added that Dais' experience offers a lesson to others who hope to sell their products to the world's most populous country: "You need to find your niche market," she said. "What do they want?"

Dais Analytic's $200 million trade deal could create 1,000 new jobs, transforming both the company and Pasco County's service-heavy job base. The region's economic boosters also hope Dais' deal opens a long-sought door to China's consumer market.

"In a small way and in a first-step way, this puts us on the map for one of the largest markets we'd like to tap," said Chris Steinocher, chief operating officer at the Tampa Bay Partnership, which promotes economic development in the region.

Dais' 18 employees design and build its filtration units by hand in cramped space the company has rented since 1998 in a southwest Pasco industrial park.

Over the next six months, company officials expect to expand into more leased space. They'll need more room when they eventually mechanize the assembly process to meet the demand of their Chinese client, said Dais' chief operating officer, Scott Ehrenberg.

A new research-and-development laboratory is on the horizon.

The company expects to hire experts in chemistry, physics and the dynamics of water and has its eye on the region's universities for talent, Ehrenberg said.

"We know that this is only the beginning," said Betsy Shieh, a U.S. Commerce Department international-trade representative based at the American Embassy in Beijing. Shieh appeared at Dais' 10 a.m. press conference by an Internet video link from China.

"China is scoping the world looking for companies and technologies just like Dais," Shieh said. She helped Dais leaders make inroad with the Chinese.

Dais will sell its technology to Genertech, a purchasing agent for the government. Dais' filtration system is likely to end up in commercial buildings, government offices and large apartment blocks, company president Tim Tangredi said.

Genertech spokesman Yuen Kong, also speaking by Internet link from China, said the company is interested in Dais' filtration system, but also at the high-tech plastic film that lies at the core of the technology.

That film can filter water as well as air. Company officials say it could be used to treat sewage more cheaply and simply than the current methods. They're also talking with Tampa Bay Water about the potential for solving problems at the regional wholesale utility's troubled desalination plant in southern Hillsborough County.

The material also can store large amounts of electrical energy, making it a potential foundation for a new generation of batteries - a factor that has drawn the attention of General Electric and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Ehrenberg said.

For Pasco County leaders, Dais' trade deal offers more hope the county - long a bedroom community for its neighbors - can move away from its historic dependence on low-wage jobs and residential property taxes. Pasco's unemployment rate now hovers around 12 percent.

Commissioners have targeted the county's S.R. 54 corridor for industrial growth they hope will diversify the county's tax base and keep some of its 84,000 commuters closer to home.

Dais' audience Wednesday included four of the county's five commissioners along with board members of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

For county officials, Dais' China deal justified the $1.2 million in subsidies the county offered to get the company on its feet a decade ago.

The county has $2.5 million in its fiscal 2010 budget to promote economic development. Some of that money could help attract state and federal investment on behalf of Dais Analytic, County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said.

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