Florida businesses, even if they don’t export, feel the effects of the strengths and weaknesses of international markets.
The weak U.S. dollar has helped Elaine Fitzgerald increase business at her Pompano Beach vacation apartments, Cottages by the Ocean. [Photo: Lew Lautin]
Where the global economy goes, so goes Elaine Fitzgerald’s business.
The Pompano Beach hotelier has seen her occupancies soar as the weakening dollar has made international vacation travel to the U.S. more affordable. Whereas in the immediate years after Sept. 11, 2001, foreign visitors disappeared amid fear and hard-to-get travel visas, today visitors from Canada, the U.K. and even Russia constitute half her bookings.
In the fall, her occupancy rate, which typically averages 40%, topped 80%, she says. For first quarter 2008, occupancy was 100%.
“One week in January, we had five families from Norway — totally independent of each other,” says Fitzgerald, who runs Beach Vacation Rentals Hotel Group, a cluster of 25 efficiency apartments in six buildings — all within eyeshot of the Atlantic. “The weak dollars hurts some businesses. But it’s keeping us very busy.”
While exporters and businesses that cater to international visitors are benefiting from the weaker U.S. dollar, other Florida businesses face challenges in the international market. Many raw materials costs are up due to demand outside the U.S. Some international businesses sell their products and services at rock-bottom prices to get a foothold in the U.S. market, a tactic that puts more pressure on local Florida businesses to lower their prices to remain competitive. “We’re in a global economy, and Florida is smack in the middle of that,” says Jerry Ross, executive director of the Disney Entrepreneur Center in Orlando. “We don’t compete with the person across the street any more. Our competition is in Beijing.”
Sherman Miller has capitalized on overseas opportunities, but also faces a new set of challenges. As president and CEO of Multicom Inc., a Longwood-based manufacturer and distributor of hardware for both cable TV equipment and traffic signals, Miller serves both domestic and overseas markets. He imports much of his cable TV hardware from Taiwan and China, and exports to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Today, export is roughly a third of his business. While his products may be cheaper overseas today than a few years ago, costs have gone up, too. But Miller’s of no mind to change his model or numbers.
What keeps him up nights? The unpredictable global market. When economic or political volatility hit Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, for example, he boosted sales efforts in other countries throughout the region, he says. When several accounts receivable start to age from customers in a specific country, Miller wonders: Is that a harbinger of change, like a spreading virus?