Florida's Great Northwest Funds '09 Trade Missions

With an economy larger than most nations on the planet, Florida plays a vibrant role in international commerce.

There are 44,000 exporters in Florida, 17 percent of the national total. But when it comes to sending goods overseas – $49 billion worth last year alone – Northwest Florida’s business leaders say the region isn’t keeping pace with the rest of the state.

Florida’s Great Northwest, a regional economic development organization serving 16 counties from Pensacola through Tallahassee, is working to reverse that trend by sponsoring three trade missions in 2009, starting off with a January trip to Panama, Florida’s 13th largest export market. In 2007, Panama imported $1.2 billion worth of Florida merchandise – a 35-percent increase from the previous year.

And state officials predict that a $5 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, now under way, will generate even more interest in Panama for additional technology, goods and services.

“We have tourism, retail, real estate and construction. That’s fine. But we need to be more diverse,” says Al Westrand, president of Florida’s Great Northwest.

Companies involved in export on average grow 15 percent faster than those who don’t send goods overseas, according to Manuel Mencia, senior vice president for international trade and business development for Enterprise Florida. Those exporters are also about 10 percent more profitable and offer up to 20 percent higher salaries, he adds.

“There is great opportunity,” Mencia says. “If you are willing to invest the time and resources, you can compete abroad. Exports won’t make a loser into a great company, but they will take a good company and make it a great company.”

Area business leaders hope to use the region’s location to capitalize on changes already under way at the Panama Canal. In late 2007, final approval was given for an expansion program that will double the canal’s capacity and finally allow supertankers to use the shipping shortcut between oceans. The target completion date is 2014.

Geographically, Northwest Florida’s ports are among the closest to the canal – a full day closer than South Florida, an important consideration in times of rising fuel costs.

The registration deadline for the trade mission, including full payment and required forms, is Nov. 21. The tentative itinerary includes meetings with prospective trade partners in key industries and customized market and industry briefings.

For more information, call Roger Miller of Florida’s Great Northwest at (850) 386-4600 or e-mail him at rmiller@fgnw.org.

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