US trade mission gears for lift off

When Penelope Williamson leads a delegation to the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas in May, she’ll be treading a familiar path that’s resulted in billions of dollars’ worth of deals for the companies that have gone along with her.

Williamson, who is AmCham’s General manager for WA and NT, will be on her 21st mission from May 6-9 after starting the bilateral business trip in the late 1990s.

More than 60,000 people in the oil and gas industry from more than 100 countries will attend the conference, which is in its 50th year.

But the trip is much more than a conference and includes face-to-face meetings with executives from major companies in Houston and visits to the global offices of Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Williamson says when she started at AmCham in 1995, it did not offer trade missions despite being a bilateral trade organisation.

Through her knowledge of the industry and contacts, Williamson set about organising a mission that would result in long-term business partnerships.

She’s taken 542 delegates since 1999, which has resulted in a billion dollars’ worth of contracts over the past 20 years. “So it’s pretty powerful stuff,” she says.

“Seventeen delegates came on the first one. While in Houston I took them to the global head offices of Chevron and the Bechtel, and we’d go out to the port and see loading docks and then the conference. There were speakers, site visits and it just worked so well. It grew each year and had 40 people going with us in the boom time.”

“The Australian delegations are really highly regarded because we do a fabulous networking dinner, we have guest speakers, we go down to NASA and meet with Andy Thomas and some of the astronauts and visit the buoyancy lab, we go out to Tenaris, the largest pipe company in the world and they do this fabulous cocktail party, so it’s all about the connections.”

While traditionally the conference and trade mission attract oil and gas industry players, Williamson says any company can go.

“We’ve had lawyers, accountants, recruiters, people that are doing project management, marine companies, so it’s right across the board but I don’t take anybody unless I think they will receive value.

“We took Dave Sharp from the Eon Group in 2016. He was making mobile solar towers in his double garage, he came to Houston with us and got a contract on day one and was asked to manufacture in the US. The following year he got another contract and then received an offer to buy the company. And that was just a small company success,” she says.

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CCIWA’s International Trade & Investment Centre Manager Michael Carter says WA businesses are well placed to take advantage of Perth’s status as a leading edge city in the World Energy Cities Partnership (WECP).

“Perth has earned a world class reputation as a global centre for oil and gas innovation and technological advancement across a range of applications including; petroleum related research, subsea exploration, production technologies, marine services, engineering design, engineering and geophysical surveying,” he says.

“With Western Australia’s LNG accounting for over 60 per cent of total Australian LNG production and sales of A$19.1billion in 2017-18, our state is in a pivotal position as a growing reliable supplier to address energy security to LNG markets in the Asian rim.”

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