As the Sunshine State aims to lure business from overseas, South Florida could improve its competitiveness, a panel of officials from Spain, Mexico and Israel said Thursday.
South Florida has a strong reputation as a gateway for business with Latin America and the Caribbean, thanks to excellent airline links to the region. It's a good base to tap the growing U.S. Hispanic market. And it's a well-established safe haven for capital from countries facing problems at home.
More than 350 Spanish companies now operate in Florida, including many major banks. Mexico's trade with Florida has doubled since 2007 to top $6 billion last year. And Israeli high-tech startups are finding partners in Florida to expand sales in the Americas, consuls said a Fort Lauderdale panel.
But challenges abound to increase international business in South Florida.
For starters, Miami sometimes overshadows the rest of the region. Spain's Consul Maria Cristina Barrios said the visit for Thursday's panel was her first to Fort Lauderdale since assuming her Miami-area post nearly two years ago.
Economic development groups from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are increasingly collaborating to promote South Florida as a business option, pooling their resources to lure more companies to the wider area, said Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
South Florida also can be seen more as a place to play than work, although the entertainment buzz can be "an invitation to enjoy doing business," said Mexico's Consul in Miami, Juan Miguel Gutierrez. The possible launch of big, destination casinos in South Florida could skew the future profile too, he said.
"You have to tweak the brand a little" to add more business to the image, said Israel's Consul in Miami, Chaim Shacham. That includes helping small Israeli companies learn about the incentives available on a state, county and city level for them to set up in the area, said Shacham.
South Florida is looking more to international investment, as other countries report speedier economic growth than the United States.
Gov. Rick Scott recently led business missions to Spain and Israel to spread the word that Florida is open for business. That's a message both the state and South Florida need to keep up, said Shacham.
The consuls spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Tower Forum business group in Fort Lauderdale. They noted that next year marks the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon's arrival in Florida, an event that shows the importance of international business for the state.
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