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Charleston Area Alliance prepares for trade trip to Italy

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Charleston business leaders better brush up on their Italian.

That's because the Charleston Area Alliance is preparing for its fourth international trade mission, this time to Venice and Florence, Italy. Those who travel for business or pleasure will experience a little bit of Italy's industry and cultural offerings during the 10 day trip, scheduled for May 7-17. Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, said the organization's trade trips allow local businesses to make connections around the world.

"Sometimes we feel like your next customer may not be in Kentucky or Ohio," he said. "They may be in emerging markets in China and Europe."

The Charleston Area Alliance has taken one previous trip to Europe and two to China. Ballard said these trips allow business leaders to make contacts with similar businesses in these international markets and potentially recruit international companies to locate in the Charleston area.

"There are several Italian companies in West Virginia already," he pointed out.

Not only does the trip give a chance for West Virginia's business leaders to connect with international ones, but they also can connect with each other.

"I went on the first China trip. What I found there I expect to find again, which is a great relationship opportunity with people from Charleston I might not otherwise get to spend time with," said Matt Coleman, president of Office and Commercial Cleaning West Virginia, which is based in South Charleston.

The trip isn't open to just businesses, Ballard said. In the past, lawyers have gone on the trips so they could better understand the legal, banking and insurance systems in some of the countries where they may have clients. In addition, people who aren't members of the Alliance can tag along for either professional or personal reasons.

Visitors will get the chance to see several of Italy's tourist attractions, including Lake Como, La Scala Opera House and the Basilica of St. Mark and Rialto Bridge. Those attending for business purposes will get a tour of the Lamborghini factory, a meeting with Florence's Chamber of Commerce and meetings in Verase.

Ballard said the Alliance has worked with partners in Italy to connect similar businesses. For example, one Charleston business owner is going to Italy in hopes of finding new merchandise for her store.

"We have a retail facility going with us this time," Ballard said. "She's going because she wants to source products from Italy. Italy is a center for fashion. She wants to expand her offerings so she's going to source some specific products."

Ballard said the Alliance will work with her to set up specific business meetings where she'll meet with people who manufacture or sell clothing, accessories, leather products and other things she may be looking for.

"For those businesses that want to go … they will have a very specific experience with personalized one-on-one meetings with businesses (in Italy)," Ballard said.

For information, call the Charleston Area Alliance at 304-340-4253. The trip is $4,099 per person for Alliance members. The cost for non-members is slightly higher.