The ambassador of the city of Miami’s Foreign Trade Zone’s workplace isn’t located in a posh office in Brickell or South Beach. His headquarters is tucked away in Poinciana Park, in an area known as the 79th Street Corridor District.
George L. Yap is CEO of Leasa Industries Co. Inc., a nearly 40-year-old grower, manufacturer and exporter of health foods over in Liberty City. Today, the company started in April 1997, brings in revenue of more than $10 million annually.
But it hasn’t always been that way for the Chinese-Jamaican born proprietor.
In 1972, Yap lost all of his savings in Kingston, Jamaica after the political climate changed and the government switched to a socialist military rule. The government demanded that all citizens turn in their foreign currency and convert it over to Jamaican currency.
“The soldiers would storm into people’s houses to search, and if they found more than $50 they would confiscate it and put you in prison,” said Yap during an interview at his office. “I came to the United States in 1976 with my wife and two kids and only $50 in my pocket.”
He first purchased a bankrupt bean sprout business and lost $30,000 attempting to revitalize the small business. Yap was ready to throw in the towel but he relied on his faith in God and didn’t call it quits.
“I was ready to give up,” said Yap. “I prayed to God everyday and he answered my prayers.”
Before Yap could open up shop, the area had to be cleaned of contaminated soil, construction debris and abandoned underground petroleum tanks. He was the catalyst in getting his hands on $10 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Poinciana Park.
At the time, Poinciana Park was deemed an Enterprise Zone, where the state offered tax cuts and other incentives to lure new businesses but that’s no longer the terminology for area.
The Foreign Trade Zone Board and PortMiami Foreign Trade Zone recently announced they have approved the 79th Street Corridor Initiative in Miami to operate as a foreign trade zone.
“We are trying to get businesses to become importers and exporters, because the Black community is not involved in international trade,” said Ron Butler, executive director of the 79th Street Corridor Initiative. “We’re going to have training programs so community residents can learn how to develop skills they can use as they engage in global trading.”
Butler says they also plan to develop warehouse facilities and build an exposition center at which to hold a variety of events.
Furthermore, the proximity of the 79th Street Corridor to PortMiami, downtown Miami, I-95 and Miami International Airport, creates an opportunity to stimulate increased economic activity, create jobs and facilitate international trade in the region.
Yap, as the ambassador to the foreign trade zone, will try to attract other businesses to the area.
Leasa’s success has resulted in careers for community residents like Darryl Murray, 54, who is a tractor-trailer driver for the company.
“I’ve been working for Leasa for 16 years and now I’m the lead driver,” said Murray. “I like what I do and I like the people working here. It makes me feel like I’m at home.”
Leasa Industries has 80 employees and many of them have been taken right off the streets. Some have turned their lives around from being law offenders and welfare moms. Sharon Cameron, 49, has managed to purchase a house while working for Leasa.
“I’ve been here for 21 years, said Cameron. “I feel secure having a job that’s allowed me to purchase a house.”
Leasa specializes in healthy foods such as kale, sprouts, alfalfa, wheat grass, snow peas, Black-eyed-peas, pearl onions, stir fry vegetable mix, vegetable soup mix, noodles and wraps, fortune cookies and has become the nation’s largest manufacturer of tofu.
Many of these items you can find on the shelves at Publix and Winn-Dixie and they are exported throughout the Caribbean and Alaska.
Another component of the free trade zone is that it can create opportunities for the county-initiated Green Tech Corridor, which is located within the 79th Street Corridor. Small businesses can enjoy benefits of being in the zone, which could include the reduction or elimination of custom duties.
Dr. Pandwe Gibson, president of EcoTech Visions, an incubator for green manufacturing businesses, is thrilled about the announcement to approve the 79th Street Corridor as a foreign trade zone.
“I look forward to seeing the Green Tech Corridor developed in Poinciana Park,” said Gibson. “It’s wonderful to see how the ecosystem begins to grow and flourish. This progress shows South Florida’s commitment to Green Tech Corridors.”