Service missionaries to Spain see trip as successBy Paola Iuspa
Local entrepreneurs hope that by introducing services such as immigration law, banking, real estate and telecommunications to businesses during trade missions abroad, they will entice firms to open a US base in Florida.
Thirty-five business leaders from around the state, many of whom were from Miami-Dade, are calling their six-day trip to Madrid and Barcelona a success. The trip was used to export services that could help Spanish firms relocate as well as to market Florida and Miami-Dade as a good business location.
Manny Mencia, senior vice president for international businesses development with Enterprise Florida, said the time to go to Spain couldn't be better.
"Historically, multinationals in Spain had never used Florida to base their headquarters or establish logistics bases, as other European countries did," Mr. Mencia said. "But that has changed dramatically in the past two to three years as they start to appreciate the logistic advantages we offer.
"Currently," he said, "Spain is Florida's fifth-biggest partner in Europe and the No. 1 shipper of goods through the Port of Miami in the entire world."
Mr. Mencia said he was not aware of any other chamber of commerce in America working on exporting services in order to attract international businesses and the local effort could become a model.
The mission, which ended last week, was part of a statewide, three-year-old program organized by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and financed by Enterprise Florida. Chamber officials have organized similar missions to Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Representatives for 15 companies from Florida joined the trip to Spain, said Marisa Feito, senior vice president for international economic development for the Greater Miami Chamber. Each participant paid a $1,800 registration fee plus the hotel and travel expenses.
Feito said each mission costs the chamber about $50,000 and takes about six months to put together.
Tony Villamil, CEO of Washington Economics Group Inc., a financial advisory firm, said he joined the delegation meet representatives for corporations expanding in Florida.
"I am perusing four possibilities," he said. "I also met with two strategic consultants based in Spain."
Mr. Villamil said a consumer food production company wants to open a plant in Miami and his company will try to help develop a feasibility study and research state incentives.
He said he also contacted officials from a manufacturer of agricultural equipment who were planning on expanding operations to the US through an office in Florida.
Begoža Cristeto, trade commissioner of Spain in Miami, said Spain is the second-largest investor in Latin America after the US and companies tend to use South Florida as a bridge. "There are 275 companies from Spain in Miami-Dade County alone," Ms. Cristeto said. "Most of them have their operations in Latin America. Besides La Telefónica de Espana on Brickell Avenue, the six most important banks in Spain have branches in Miami."
Tony Santos, a shareholder with the law firm Greenberg Traurig and chairman of the chamber committee for missions, said he came back from Spain with several leads.
"We showed them Florida is an easier place to set up operations in a culture that will accept them," Mr. Santos said.
Other participants said they agreed.
"It was very productive," said Jose Rojas, who went to Spain representing the Miami-based law firm Holland & Knight, which Mr. Rojas said sent an expert on immigration law, another on e-commerce and another on international banking.
Investors in Spain interested in Latin America see South Florida, particularly Miami, as a strategic location to base regional offices, Mr. Rojas said.
"They see Miami as a neutral territory," he said. "Because if they choose to place an office in Argentina, Brazil could get offended.
"Also, Miami International Airport offers nonstop flights to any city in Latin America, which makes it easier. We speak the same language and have the same customs. So they feel more comfortable doing business from Miami than maybe from New York."
Henley Jones, an international trade specialist for the US Commercial Service in the US commerce department, said he traveled with the group to make sure resources from the federal government were available to the Chamber of Commerce through video conferences, market studies, surveys and available programs.
"The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is a leader in increasing the export of services, which has a strong effect in our economy," Mr. Jones said. "Its initiative creates job opportunities, strengthens companies and increases salaries by bringing new customers."
Jones said that before the chamber started the program to export services, his department was focused only on the exporting of goods.
According to the Institute for International Professional Services at Florida International University, 78.1% of the state's economy is rooted in the service sector, making Florida second only to Nevada in its economic dependence on services. In Florida, agriculture, mining and manufacturing account for the remaining 21.9%.
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