Local business leaders make networking trip to Asia
By Susan Stabley
With other US municipalities forging economic ties with Asia, Miami-Dade County leaders made a push into the Orient with a recent trip to Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, China.
"We have to start thinking outside the box and go out and get the business," said County Commissioner JosČ "Pepe" Diaz, chairman of the Jay Malina International Trade Consortium.
Commissioner Diaz led the 12-day trip that ended March 17 and took 17 representatives to the three Asian cities to meet with several economic groups - from the Economic Development Board of Singapore and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries to the Chinese Manufacturers Association and the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce. They toured a Chinese industrial zone and a factory building two cranes for the Port of Miami.
It was the first joint trade mission of the county's trade consortium and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and included a delegation of officials from the county's air and sea ports and the Empowerment Trust, the Beacon Council and CAMACOL, the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States.
Private participants included representatives of AXL Trading, a paper goods company; Baby City Diapers, a retailer; Smith Barney financial services; Alex Gonzales & Associates, a project management and consulting company; International Center of Commerce of the Americas trading company; and merchandiser Perry Ellis International. All companies met with related Asian companies.
Breaking into the Asian market takes time to establish relationships, said many who made the trip. This was the second time in a year that Commissioner Diaz and the county's trade consortium traveled to Hong Kong and Singapore. It was their first trip to Shanghai.
"When it comes to dealing with Asia, it's a matter of trust," said Joe Martinez, senior vice president for the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development agency.
China has expressed interest in South Florida, said Mr. Martinez, who participated in the trip. The Beacon Council recently gave a presentation to a delegation of 40 distributors of motorcycle parts from mainland China.
Asian cities "are trying to see if they can use Miami as a hub to Latin America and the Caribbean," said William Alexander, president of CAMACOL. Also affecting their interest are recent free-trade agreements between the US and Singapore as well as proposed trade agreements among Central American countries and the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would create a trade pact among 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Mr. Alexander used the trip to invite business leaders from Hong Kong, China and Shanghai to next year's Hemispheric Congress, an annual event for more than 20 years that brings businesses from across the Americas together and promotes the area.
"It's the last frontier," said Chris Mangos, manager of marketing at the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department. "It's logical for Miami to seek trade ties to that region."
Miami International Airport has no passenger service to those three cities, he said. A cargo service runs four times a week to Taiwan as the airport's only connection to Asia.
If trade flourished between Miami and Asia, there could be passenger and cargo service between the airport and the Orient, he said.
"We have to demonstrate to China that Miami is the place, the bridge," said Evelio Ley of the International Center of Commerce of the Americas, a private company in Medley involved in trade and business development.
Mr. Ley said the only way to win over China is by traveling there and asking for the business, efforts under way by several US cities. He said the trip gave him the opportunity to make business contacts, especially in food and consumer goods and office and school supplies.
"Miami has to move very quickly," Mr. Ley said. "It must be very aggressive or lose the opportunity."
Cities such as Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa as well as Broward County have begun making inroads to Asia, said Commissioner Diaz. He emphasized the importance of maintaining Miami's status as a gateway into Latin America and the Caribbean, especially as more Asian businesses are eyeing those areas for trade.
"If we don't," he said, "someone will take it away from us."