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Foreign Aid - Florida's Foreign Companies

Sabadell United
Sabadell United's Miami office provides private and corporate banking services in the U.S. and the Americas. Sabadell has purchased TransAtlantic Bank and Mellon United National Bank in Miami and most recently Lydian Private Bank in Palm Beach. [Photo: Sabadell United]
More than 250,000 Floridians work for majority foreign-owned companies at some 2,500 locations around the state, according to Enterprise Florida.

Some employees now work for foreign companies as a result of acquisitions — the 1,200-person phosphate mining company White Springs Agricultural Chemicals, originally founded by Occidental Chemical, is now a subsidiary of Canada-based Potash Corp., for example. Diabetes testing kit maker Nipro Diagnostics in Fort Lauderdale was known as Home Diagnostics until Japan-based Nipro Corp. acquired it last year. Several Florida banks have been acquired by Spanish banks recently, including Miami-based City National (now owned by Caja Madrid), Coral Gables-based TotalBank (now owned by Banco Popular Español) and Palm Beach-based Lydian Private Bank (now owned by Sabadell United).

Other locations serve as foreign companies' bulwarks for expansion into the U.S. or Latin America and the Caribbean, ranging from telecoms to restaurants and furniture retailers. Australian online travel agency Webjet.com's only U.S. office, opened last year in Tampa, employs 12. Spain-based Indra Sistemas sells and services technology related to road tolling and aviation from its Winter Park and Miami offices, employing around 100. Another technology company, Pace Americas, a subsidiary of U.K.-based Pace, employs around 100 in its Boca Raton office. Pace develops set-top boxes and services for television and broadband services providers. Although it has U.S. locations in California and Texas, Boca Raton "is a great hub for being close to our Latin American and North American customers," says Rebecca Brandon, a marketing executive for the company.

Foreign Direct Investment

» No. 6: Florida's rank in the U.S. for foreign direct investment employment

» $35.9 billion: Total value of holdings by majority-owned foreign companies operating in Florida in 2008 (latest data available)

While the state's position as a hemispheric gateway and its multilingual, multicultural population make it an attractive location, foreign companies face the same challenges as U.S.-based firms. Education concerns are most acute, with foreign firms worried about workforce skills and access to good schools for their employees. And, as Latin American trade with Asia grows, companies need more Floridians who speak Japanese, Mandarin and other Asian languages.

Top Sources of International Jobs (number of jobs)
1) United Kingdom 45,000
2) Canada 24,300
3) Germany 22,600
4) Japan 21,100
5) Netherlands 20,700

Trends and Developments

Manny Mencia
[Photo: Daniel Portnoy]

As senior vice president and COO for international trade and development at Enterprise Florida, Manny Mencia has visited more than 90 countries on behalf of the state. He began in international business development for Florida when Reubin Askew was governor. His observations:

» Major trends involving global companies investing in Florida: "Canada has emerged as our hottest FDI (foreign direct investment) market in the world given the strength of the Canadian dollar and the health of the Canadian economy. Another positive development is the emergence of Brazil as a major investor in Florida. Brazilian companies are leveraging the strength of the real to acquire Florida companies and expand their footprint in Florida. And despite economic problems in Europe, lead generation from the EU remains strong."

Investment by Country (in billions of dollars)
1) Japan $4.16
2) Germany $4.13
3) United Kingdom $3.88
4) Australia $3.56
5) Canada $3.36

» Foreign firm that's growing rapidly: "TD Bank (Toronto-Dominion) has been expanding very aggressively in Florida and could very well eventually wind up as the bank with the most branches in the state. Many also miss out on the significance of Embraer's expansion in Brevard County, where the company is assembling its line of Phenom corporate jets. This makes Florida host to the first foreign company ever to assemble air frames in the United States. A huge coup for Florida that is creating huge buzz in the aviation industry."

» Interest from Asia: "I believe the expansion of the Panama Canal will be a game changer for Florida and will usher an unprecedented new era of trade and foreign investment from Asia. As more cargo from Asia destined to the Southeast and Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. begins to flow through the canal, Florida ports will be in a position to capture a significant portion of that cargo, and that in turn should make our state very attractive to Asian companies seeking to establish logistic and distribution operations, regional headquarters and eventually other value-added operations, including manufacturing."

» What ratification of the pending Doha trade pact (negotiations among World Trade Organization members) means here: "I see trade as the tide that raises all ships in Florida. It is estimated that the Doha agreements will give a significant boost to world trade. As one of our nation's principal traders, our state will definitely be a beneficiary. Trade tends to generate investment, so more trade will mean more jobs in Florida."

» Medical tourism's impact in Florida: "Medical tourism has become a huge source of business for Florida hospitals. It is a wonderful business for our hospitals and clinics. Foreign patients tend to come to Florida for very sophisticated treatments or procedures and most often pay in cash. Medical tourism also has a strong multiplier effect. They bring relatives who stay in our hotels, go out to dinner and shop as all tourist do. This is a growing niche with enormous potential for Florida."

» Foreign firms that most Floridians don't know about with a big presence here: "I bet many Floridians don't know that when they order a Whopper or drink a Budweiser they are ordering from Brazilian companies as Brazilian investors now own Burger King and Anheuser-Busch or that when they hand their bags to an MIA baggage handler, they are dealing with an employee of a Spanish company called Eulen or that when they visit the Port of Jacksonville and see the big sign for shipbuilder Atlantic Marine, they are seeing part of a British conglomerate."

Foreign-Owned Holdings (top industries)
Sector Holdings %
Manufacturing $12.5 billion 34.8%
Real estate/rental and leasing $8.5 23.8
Retail trade $3.7 10.4
Wholesale trade $2.2 6.0
Finance/insurance $2.0 5.6
Information $848 million 2.3
Source: Enterprise Florida, 2008 figures