International trade engine will sputter without better effort, chamber warned
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Miami's spot as Hub of the Americas isn't guaranteed forever, a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce committee was told Saturday, and the community must push hard to secure its economic role in the hemisphere.
From establishing credibility among foreign business communities to securing air travel between Miami and major Asian hubs, there's no shortage of work, the chamber's international group was told.
"International trade is what keeps our engine going here in Miami," said Carolina Rendeiro, CEO of Right Space Management. "If we put it on the back burner we're going to suffer."
Cities like Houston and Atlanta are striving to develop international business links and "if we don't step up to the plate… we're going to be left behind," she added.
Crucial to international trade is the link between Miami International Airport and emerging economic centers globally, group members were told.
Though the airport is one of American Airlines' major US hubs and boasts an unmatched number of flights to Latin America, some voiced concern about its links with rising powers in central and East Asia.
The United Arab Emirates' Qatar Airways recently announced freighter service linking Doha to São Paulo and Buenos Aires. Miami is not on the flight plan.
"We are at this time, for various purposes, at the right time… to close a deal [for a] Tokyo and a Hong Kong route," said Chris Mangos, airport marketing director. "We've been working with airlines in both areas but they're holding back because of the fuel crisis, economic downfall and a host of things that's got them in a conservative mode."
And though airports in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston already have direct flights to and from the Asian hubs, Miami could be poised to put itself on the map too. Not, however, without heavy lifting, the crowd of about 50 learned.
"Tokyo is a reality. Hong Kong is a reality," Mr. Mangos said. "I need assistance, our airport needs assistance, in order to make this happen."
Over the next two years, he added, Miami's business and political leaders need to make executive-level trips to Asia in hopes of securing direct routes that could be a key link between Asian investors and South Florida.
Jerry Haar, an associate dean at Florida International University's business school, said outbound chamber missions looking to generate business abroad need more preparation.
Sending "fact-finding [missions] undermines the credibility of the chamber," he argued.
Instead, he advocated increased chamber events to education mission attendees on basics of the targeted country.
Once what goods or services are needed, such as high-tech goods in Latin America, is determined, "you… better find out who in Miami-Dade or Broward or Palm Beach has the capability to sell that equipment," he said.
Later, Ms. Rendeiro said increased registration time and firm cutoffs on missions could improve results.
"We have to go with new business and new industries and the chamber has got to get these linkage programs out with ample notice," she said. "You have to select the cities and the countries. We need to have ample time of putting notices out there and a cutoff date that we respect so that we have a viable mission."
Even more important, she argued, is that private businesses that attend remain in contact with foreign counterparts.
"The big issue I see is that we go out there and we're able to connect to the people, but if we come back and we don't stay with that connection it dies down," she said. "I've stayed connected through my own efforts [but] it falls upon all of us to stay connected, because when you go to these missions, these people are eager for us to work with them."
Members cited goals for each unit under the international business development umbrella.
Highlights include programming on China, India and Taiwan in the Global Intelligence Committee led by Dr. Haar of FIU.
Under the Consular Corps, chamber members are to look to link the consuls general based here with other key Miami organizations and assist missions abroad with pre-trip briefings.
The Leadership Americas Committee during the next 12 months is to seek to host an international conference and business awards event, continue promoting Miami as a healthcare destination, identify meetings and events that could be held in Miami, host educational forums with government and economic leaders and bring international business issues to the chamber's advocacy team.
And the Global Linkages Committee, which helps organize missions abroad, aims to follow up with in-country contacts, schedule missions with large business events in the target country, provide post-mission debriefings, consider reaching out to China and partner with other organizations focused on international business.
Though many goals target ongoing efforts, Asia seems destined for a distinct focus.
St. Thomas University's J. Antonio Villamil, dean of the business school, emphasized the importance of researching and traveling to opportunities in China.
Tomislav Mandakovic, dean of Barry University's Andreas School of Business, said the chamber should pay attention to India as well.
"That's a huge market," he said. And "it's not just about bringing in goods. Let's think about sending [them] out" as well.