Florida-Russian ties high on agenda at young chamberBy Marilisa Jimenez
A South Florida attorney is attempting to strengthen business ties between the US and former Soviet Union nations by taking on the leadership of Florida's two-year-old American-Russian Chamber of Commerce.
Natalia V. Poliakova, an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff in Ft. Lauderdale, said she wants to turn the chamber, founded by Gordon Stula, into a "networking, informational source" for Florida businesses wanting to expand into Russia and eastern Europe, and visa versa.
A Russian-born attorney admitted to the Florida Bar, Ms. Poliakova said she noticed organizations such as the Beacon Council and the Broward Alliance do not focus on business issues in her homeland.
"People talk about Latin America," she said, "but hardly about eastern Europe or Russia. Russia is never the subject. There aren't means for American businesses to get statistical information on or in Russia."
She said she became concerned when she discovered the chamber was not listed in a directory of chambers of commerce.
"I want this to be a strong, international chamber, not a social club where people only exchange business cards."
Ms. Poliakova said she hopes the chamber will become an international link for Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Irina Nemstev, chair of the chamber's membership committee and also an attorney, said, "I think it will familiarize local business on an international scale. They will have the opportunity to learn about a different culture and how Russians operate their business."
Ms. Nemstev said the Russian economy's unstable status sometimes prevents entrepreneurs in other countries from considering it for expansions.
"They don't know who to trust over there or who can give them tips. The chamber will be a friendly arena for that."
Ms. Poliakova said she met with officials of the US Commerce Department, the Russian trade representation and several consular offices to present her ideas for the chamber and to gain advice.
The chamber board's goals for the next year include scheduling seminars and luncheons featuring speakers with experience in Russian-American business.
"We want members to share their stories of success or their mistakes. Sometimes it's better to learn from mistakes," Ms. Poliakova said.
She said she hopes to add an Orlando branch to the chamber in addition to those in Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa.
"With support from my law firm," Ms. Poliakova said, "we were able to open the Tampa Bay branch. My goal is to cover all of Florida."
Ms. Nemstev said Florida's location is an advantage. "We want Florida to be a hot point between the US, Russia and maybe Latin America. We could open the door for Russian businesses also trying to expand their business into Latin America.
"We eventually want to do events and work with other chambers that have a Spanish flavor."
Participating in the fifth annual Trade, Economic & Investment Forum Dec. 11-13 in the Fontainebleau Hilton could help the chamber gain recognition. The forum, sponsored by the Council for Trade & Economic Cooperation and the Russian Union of Industrialists & Entrepreneurs, will focus on a Russia-US-Latin America connection, Ms. Poliakova said.
Two hundred Russian business executives and officials are expected at the forum, according to the council. Those invited include Igor Ivanov, minister of foreign affairs; German Gref, minister of economic development & trade; Aleksey Gordeyev, minister of agriculture, and Victor Chernomyrdin, deputy to the duma.
A Russian, Caribbean & Latin American trade & investment roundtable is planned during the forum.
The chamber is holding a membership drive kick-off at 6 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Driftwood Hotel on Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles, Ms. Poliakova said.
"I want this to be a strong chamber," Ms. Nemstev said. "I want this chamber to be on top of the world.
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