Leaders of the area’s foreign trade zones want to spread the word about how companies involved in importing and exporting can save money.

The zones —where companies can defer, reduce or avoid customs duties — will be the focus of a half-day seminar featuring top experts May 24 at Firestone Country Club in Akron.

Foreign trade zones have been around since the Great Depression; there are about 250 nationwide. Still, conference organizer Ron DeBarr said, “there’s a lack of knowledge about the foreign trade zones, how they work.”

People “think they’re too complex from a documentation, compliance standpoint. They’re not,” said DeBarr, president and chief executive of the Northeast Ohio Trade and Economic Consortium, the Kent nonprofit that oversees the zone dubbed FTZ 181.

This zone — anchored by Summit County — is spread over a 10-county region and is made up of separate areas, called sites.

NEOTEC — which also oversees FTZ 40 in Cuyahoga, Lorain and Ashtabula counties — promotes the program as a way for companies to compete globally while keeping jobs in the United States. DeBarr said companies in a trade zone can accept foreign components tariff-free, assemble them into finished products, then export them to other countries.

DeBarr said the zones aren’t for everybody; companies must evaluate whether the amount they save in customs duties makes up for additional administrative costs.

The seminar will feature presentations by top officials from the National Association of Foreign Trade Zones. They include the group’s president, Dan Griswold, and chairman, Lewis Leibowitz, a Washington attorney who specializes in international trade law.

Jack Juron, vice president of Albrecht Inc. real-estate development company of Akron, is planning to attend the conference.

Juron said companies don’t have to import on a huge scale to benefit from being in a zone.

“You don’t have to be IBM or GM or Apple,” he said. “It really applies to a lot of companies.”

Juron is marketing Foreign Trade Zone 181 sites: Albrecht Inc.’s 106-acre Hudson Drive Business Campus in Stow and a 71-acre area along Gilchrist Road in Akron.

Albrecht Inc. is building office and industrial space and has land available for development at the Hudson Drive Business Campus. This development includes the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. mold plant, which is now occupied by three tenants but still has some space available.

The Gilchrist Road property features industrial space, 90 percent of which is occupied. Juron said obtaining zone status for the property wasn’t difficult: “Ron DeBarr at ?NEOTEC was the one who did all the heavy lifting. He actually goes to Washington, D.C., regularly to meet with the FTZ folks.”

Albrecht Inc. shares ownership with the Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co., which operates Acme Fresh Market.

NEOTEC is hosting the seminar with the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority. It is sponsored by the Greater Akron Chamber, along with accounting business BCG & Co. and the Roetzel & Andress law firm.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. Cost is $85 and includes breakfast and a buffet lunch. For information or to register, call 800-793-0912 or visit www.neotec.org.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.