Fred Latuperissa spreads the gospel of international trade

By on March 6, 2017

The head of the U.S. Commerce Department’s trade office in the Inland Empire wants all local businesses to know about the potential of overseas markets.

Although he tends to keep a low profile, Fred Latuperissa probably belongs on any list of the most influential people in the Inland Empire.

Latuperissa is director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration Office in the Inland Empire, which covers all of Riverside and San Bernardino counties and part of Los Angeles County.

Born in what is now Indonesia, Latuperissa grew up in the San Fernando Valley, graduating from Verdugo Hills High School. Before going to work for the government, Latuperissa worked Hughes Aircraft Electronics, General Motors, where he was in charge of corporate export-import operations.

Latuperissa has held his current job since 1994. Based in Ontario, his office is responsible for promoting international trade and economic growth in the Inland Empire.

It’s an important job. The Inland Empire, with its millions of square feet of logistics space and its proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, is probably as dependent on international trade as any submarket in California, if not the United States.

The region exports approximately $9 billion worth of goods every year to foreign countries, and that number will certainly keep growing, although assigning a number to that anticipated growth is difficult.

“We have everything except the oceans, and we’re pretty close to that,” said Latuperissa. “From an intermodal standpoint, the Inland Empire is in an ideal location.”

Besides being close two of the world’s largest and busiest seaports, the Inland Empire has plenty of freeway access, good rail systems and four major airports: Ontario International, Palm Springs International, San Bernardino International and Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville.

During his time with the commerce department, Latuperissa has led a trade delegation from the Inland Empire to China and has helped open a U.S. Export Assistance Center on the San Manual reservation near Highland, the first such assistance center established on Native American territory in the United States.

Latuperissa also helped put together a trade agreement that was signed last July by officials from the Inland Valley Development Agency, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and the International Trade Administration.

That document, which follows guidelines established by the commerce department, is meant to increase awareness about the importance of international trade to the Inland Empire, as well as educate the public about various trade activities.

Despite all of the conversation regarding free trade and a global economy, and trade agreements designed to promote those concepts, a lot of business owners, particularly in the Inland Empire, haven’t learned how to take advantage of foreign markets.

“Some people are intimidated by it, by having to learn how another country does business or having to learn a new language,” Latuperissa said. “Getting the word out about foreign markets can be difficult. But if someone can increase their business by five percent, or even one percent, by getting into overseas markets, that’s a tremendous improvement.”

While no one would argue that the Inland Empire economy will continue to rely heavily on international trade in the years ahead, the change in leadership Washington, D.C., has made the future of importing and exporting a little murky, according to one local economist.

“There’s a wild card out there now with the Trump Administration,” said Robert Kleinhenz, economist and executive director of research at the UC Riverside Center for Economic Forecasting and Development. “We’ll have to see where they’re going. There have been hints about some changes, but we don’t know what their policies are going to be.”