Brazil, Nebraska Share Connections

Pequeno Mundo.

The mere mention of Brazil is likely to conjure up images of remote rainforests, beautiful beaches, the pervasiveness of futebol (soccer) and the sensuousness of Carnival.

Hardly comparable to Nebraska – except for maybe the zealousness for football.

Yet throughout a recent trip to Brazil with a group of U.S. journalists, I found myself spotting comparisons and connections between our state and a nation that promises to become as much a part of America’s self-centered consciousness as Russia, India or perhaps even China.

I visited a Harley Davidson plant in Manaus that uses parts processed by Lincoln Plating.

I undoubtedly ate beef from a breed of cattle whose genetic line traces to Nebraska.

And when I returned home, the last leg of my journey was rooted in a Brazilian factory I had visited one week before.

I didn’t even mention the exchange program between the University of Nebraska and the Federal University of Piaui in Teresina – or my tourist stop to take a picture of a drug store named Nebraska.

Paulo Lacerda has never been to Nebraska – but the general manager of the Harley Davidson plant in Manaus wonders if it’s anything like Kansas, which he visited during a trip to the Harley plant in Kansas City.

In 1999, Lacerda opened Harley’s plant in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon and home to about 500 companies that are here to take advantage of a free trade zone established in part to encourage interior development.

In return for providing jobs, the companies receive low-cost land, tax breaks and generally avoid import tariffs that would be levied on products manufactured in other countries.

For Harley, the break on import tariffs means being able to produce enough Hogs at a reasonable price to satisfy a growing Brazilian market. Once Lacerda has moved his plant across town to a new building, his goal is to get production up to 1,000 a year. Still, he notes, Honda makes that many cycles per day in its Manaus plant.

To qualify for the break on import tariffs, Lacerda’s two-person assembly crews must perform a minimum of 30 operations on the final product – machining, drilling, painting, vulcanizing, stamping and the like. About a dozen parts are made locally – the rest are imported, including several made or processed by Lincoln Plating at its plant on Capitol Parkway.

Yadi Kamelian, vice president for Lincoln Plating and manager of the company’s contract with Harley Davidson, said the motorcycle manufacturer has become a very good customer. In addition to producing sprockets, fender supports and frame covers, Lincoln Plating also polishes or plates a variety of other parts for Harleys, including mufflers, exhaust tubes, some handlebars and light and speedometer housings, Kamelian said.

Parts from Lincoln Plating are packaged and sent to York, Pa., where other pieces for cycles are gathered before export to Brazil.

Joao Paulo Marques Canto Porto uses a different kind of import from the Great Plains in his business.

Though he’s never visited Nebraska, Porto remembers stops in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana to get a firsthand look at the Charolais bulls providing semen to be used in breeding with Nelore cattle to create a new breed – Canchim.

Canchim cattle are more resistant to disease, are more fertile – and most importantly, put on weight faster than Nelore cattle, Porto says. They are ready for slaughter in about 24 months of pasture feeding – compared to three-year or four-year cycles for Nelore. Not as good as an 18-month average for most breeds in the United States, Porto notes, but still a great advantage in Brazil.

Porto has 11,000 head of cattle at two ranches – and provides Canchim for breeding stock to other Brazilian ranchers, who also import Charolais semen as well as genetics from other Nebraska breeds, especially Red Angus.

While Brazil imports Harley parts and cattle genetics, the biggest success story in Brazil today is about its No. 1 exporter – Embraer, manufacturer of regional jets.

Founded by the Brazilian Air Force after World War II, Embraer was struggling just a few short years ago. Employment dropped from 12,000 in 1990 to 3,200 in April 1997 – almost two years after the company was privatized.

But designers were busily developing a series of small passenger jets, building off the shell of a turboprop model, and sales took off – almost doubling between 1997 and 1998 to $1.3 billion and doubling again to $2.8 billion by 2000. Net income showed a $31 million loss in 1997 – and rose to a profit of $353 million in 2000. The jets are ideal for the type of hub system used by most U.S. airlines.

Employment is back to 10,000 at the main plant in Sao Jose dos Campos, about 50 miles from Sao Paulo. And Embraer is now Brazil’s largest exporter (about 5 percent of total exports) and on the verge of being the third-largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world, behind Boeing and Airbus. It is launching new models – a 70-seat jet this winter to be followed by jets seating 98 and 108 passengers.

But Embraer’s most popular model is still the 50-seat ERJ-145 that safely and comfortably returned me from St. Louis to Lincoln on the 4th of July.

Small World.