Finding opportunities for Florida/International Trade
The Florida Chamber Foundation recently released an update to its 2010 Florida Trade and Logistics Study. The report examines whether Florida has made progress in its trade and logistics infrastructure and in preparing to take advantage of opportunities presented by the expansion of the Panama Canal. It also looks at how Florida can do more, especially to export more. Tony Carvajal, the foundation’s executive vice president, and Alice Ancona, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s director of global outreach, talk about Florida’s trade prospects.
Florida Trend: Why does the expansion of the Panama Canal present such an urgent opportunity for Florida?
Tony Carvajal: It is about to shift 150 years’ worth of transportation patterns in this country. You miss this window, and you miss it for a generation. Once the infrastructure is raised, once the goods are being transported through certain sectors of the Eastern Seaboard, that’s going to be the traffic pattern for at least a generation.
FT: What is the top takeaway from the new report?
Carvajal: A strong call for manufacturing more in Florida. We have the capacity to manufacture in this state, but we’ve got to change our focus. The constant problem that we have is that most of those (ships, airplanes, trucks and trains) come into Florida full and leave either half or completely empty. Even if we enhance our infrastructure, if we are ready for more things to come into Florida — unless we actually make more in Florida and fill those vehicles and those containers up, we still aren’t going to make many gains.
FT: The report also calls for creating a trade and logistics institute. Why is that?
Carvajal: What we’re talking about is becoming the No. 1 state in the country for training trade, logistics and manufacturing talent and even creating a maritime academy so that we can build on one of the sectors that is already here. Not only will we need trained people, but I also think that they attract markets. It’s a competitive advantage.
FT: What are the Florida Chamber’s trade-related advocacy priorities?
Alice Ancona: Engaging to promote free trade agreements that will help us move more cargo through here and diversify our economy and work with a larger number of trade partners.
Carvajal: Supporting economic development programs, supporting Department of Transportation programs. And you’ll probably see us pushing to make the manufacturing tax cut a permanent solution. Also, funding of the Quick Response Training Program, a little more tourism marketing, marketing assistance for airports trying to get more international flights.
JAPAN -- Expanding Opportunities
Florida’s links with Japan date back at least as far as the early 20th century, when Florida authorities and Henry Flagler recruited young Japanese men in an attempt to create a farming community in southeast Florida. The Yamato Colony never truly got off the ground, and World War II put an end to all efforts. Eventually, the land on which it sat became the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. The 2010 Census showed about 13,224 people of Japanese descent still in the state.
Japan, meanwhile, is one of only two countries outside of Latin America among Florida’s top 10 trading partners (along with Switzerland). Ninety-two percent of the $7.3 billion in trade that the state conducted with its No. 8 trading partner in 2012 was in imports. In fact, the Asian nation ranks behind only China among top import sources into Florida, and the value of those imports rose by nearly 20% during 2012. Some 78% of those imports are cars and trucks.
As a first step toward expanding the relationship, Gov. Rick Scott led a small trade mission to the nation in November — making him the first sitting governor to visit Japan in 16 years. Economic development officials hope renewed relationship-building efforts will lead to more foreign direct investment in Florida from Japanese companies, an estimated 119 of which already have operations in the state.