Quebec businesses head to Miami to strike deals
By Rachel Tannenbaum
The Quebec-Florida Chamber of Commerce is bringing ten Quebec companies from all business sectors wishing to develop the Florida market or to expand during its third mission to the state.
The April 16 to 18 mission will highlight the importance of the business relationship between Quebec and Florida.
"The Quebec-Florida Chamber of Commerce is a bilateral chamber that is really focused on bilateral trade," said chamber President Marcel Racicot. "A lot of businesses and companies export from Florida to Quebec and from Quebec to Florida."
Canada is Florida's main international economic partner, with the Quebec market responsible for approximately a quarter of the $8 billion annual trade between Canada and Florida.
The chamber currently has about 125 members, 60% in Florida — mostly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — and 40% in Quebec.
"There are a lot of business clusters that are the same in both Quebec and Florida, including life sciences, biomedical and aerospace," Mr. Racicot said. "The sunny weather in Florida is also a reason Quebec companies want to come."
Canadians coming to Florida isn't new, said Sophie Proulx, general director of the chamber's Florida division.
"People forget that people from Quebec have been coming to Florida for almost 70 to 80 years. For about eight months out of the year, they have a lot of impact in the Florida economy," she said. "They come here for vacations and to build businesses; Quebec has always done business with the US."
Quebec has been enjoying a good economy, one reason Ms. Proulx said Quebec companies are "coming and paying with cash."
Despite the effects of the economic crisis in both countries, the Canadian government's website says two-way trade rebounded 20% in 2010 to reach almost $8 billion, withstanding the downturn and highlighting efficiencies created by trade integration.
"People are realizing in Quebec that although the US in general has been hit with economic hard times, one thing we do know is that the US economic situation is bound to turn around," Ms. Proulx said.
She added: "Like the US, baby-boomers in Quebec are starting to retire. This is the biggest year."
The chamber's first trade mission in March 2010 came at a time it became needed to focus on common elements of the two countries, Mr. Racicot said.
"Florida has particular Quebec connections, many with South America," Mr. Racicot said. "The first trade mission was a huge success."
This year's three-day mission in three target counties — Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade — will offer five training sessions.
They include getting to know Florida markets, planning and financing expansion, developing the adequate marketing strategy, getting ready for business meetings and completing the trade mission follow-up.
Participating Quebec businesspeople will get opportunity to meet Gov. Rick Scott and other government officials.
"We teach a lot of businesses what they need to know before entering the market," Mr. Racicot said.
When it comes to starting businesses, especially in different countries, Ms. Proulx said that businesspeople are exposed to a lot of fraud and that the chamber helps prevent that.
"It is such a process for a Quebec company to start a business in Florida, I think people forget," Ms. Proulx said. "You need a visa or green card and there is a lot of paperwork."
The most important aspect for Quebec businesses expanding into Florida, Ms. Proulx said, is to have the right partners, people, professionals, realtors and banks.
"It can be overwhelming, and we help guide them once they are here. We help them survive," she said.
She added that the chamber helps with the language barrier.
"Most people in Quebec speak French, but the culture is French-Canadian; it is different than France," she said."
Mr. Racicot said he's very happy with the attendees on this year's mission.
"One business was part of the first trade mission and now is back for the third, and one first came last year and is back again this year," he said. "It is networking between people who have been to a trade mission before and who are first-timers."
The ten participating companies, he said, are diverse.
"There is a construction company, a high-tech company, a biomedical company and a food industry company," Mr. Racicot said. "At least five companies are interested in setting up small offices in Miami or South America."
The trade missions, he said, help the chamber develop and innovate.
"We are a newer chamber, but we are here to survive," Ms. Proulx said. "I think that when people from around the world think of Florida they think there are a lot of old people, but it's not, and it is a lot of work to tell people otherwise."
A chamber, Ms. Prolix said, requires credibility.
"We have really established credibility and really made it a key place for businesses to get support," she said.
"There are about 20 to 30 Quebec businesses that have come and established in Florida, we understand very key players."
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