Photo: iStockJacksonville has a sister port relationship with the city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa (above).
Trading with African companies
Changes in Africa present opportunities in Florida.
Rich in oil and raw materials, Africa is emerging as a player in telecom and pharmaceuticals and more countries are moving toward democracy, which is expected to facilitate trade relations.
The continent has huge numbers of potential consumers, says Bryant Salter, director of the Africa Trade Expansion Program for Enterprise Florida, which is tasked with promoting Florida as a gateway for trade and commerce between Africa and the Western Hemisphere.
It also has a large emerging middle class, and cheap cellular communications have brought connectivity and the internet to even small villages, says Sunit Sanghrajka, owner of Alluring Africa, a tour operator in Winter Park who was born in Kenya. His family is involved in several businesses on the continent.
During the past decade, Sanghrajka says, Africans who studied abroad have been returning, bringing back knowledge and relationships cultivated overseas. “For investors from the U.S. that have construction, technology, city and regional planning know-how, it’s a tremendous opportunity because the U.S. is still regarded very highly,” he says. Salter adds that Florida companies also have particular opportunities in food production and agricultural materials, energy — including solar energy — medical services and housing.
Florida has been working to build trade and business relationships with African nations since 2000, when the U.S. passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives trade preferences and other economic development incentives to businesses there. Enterprise Florida regularly leads business development missions to the continent and has an office in South Africa that serves as a base of operations for the southern part of the continent.
In March, the organization conducted a business development mission to South Africa, on the heels of a December visit to Florida by a delegation from several African countries. On a more regional level, Jacksonville has a longstanding sister port relationship with the city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. That city’s mayor was in Jacksonville in August to discuss how the cities can grow their relationship.
Florida companies have a long track record of doing business in the developing world and understand some of its unique challenges, notes Manny Mencia, senior vice president of Enterprise Florida’s International Trade and Development division. “Obviously, Latin America and the Caribbean is very different from Africa, but the basics remain the same,” he says. “They tend to be smaller economies with certain infrastructure challenges, require expertise in terms of securing finance and making your way through the maze to do business.”
And although Florida’s ports are the closest in the U.S. to Africa, there are still few direct sea connections and no direct flights at all. For instance, Willie Arnold, president of Boca Ratonbased Arnold-Hanafin, a provider of engineering services in the aerospace industry, is considering expanding in Angola, where a new airport is under construction.
That nation doesn’t have equipment or a major airport-based manufacturer, he explains, and his company could offer aircraft maintenance. But with no direct flights between southern Florida airports and Angola, “I just couldn’t hop on a plane and fly there in a short period of time,” he says. Salter notes that building direct air routes is a priority, and Miami International, Orlando International and Jacksonville International airports are all working on such connections.
Although there are some direct sea routes, Salter says cargo lines must be able to affordably ship direct without having to go through Europe. “The key is finding the companies and the ports to serve the cargo lines and making sure there’s enough business for those cargo lines to call on our ports,” he says.