When more than 300 Florida business executives headed for Mexico in July on the state's largest-ever trade mission, it wasn't surprising that Jeb Bush, the state's governor, headed the delegation. For more than a decade, Florida has cultivated its trading ties with Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, Florida is the dominant U.S. trading partner with Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and the nations of Central America.
While Florida exports to Mexico have been on a smaller scale, Bush said the recent trip would result in millions of dollars in increased sales. President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, who met with Bush and the business delegation, cited an "enormous potential" for increased Florida-Mexico trade.
Bush isn't the only Florida leader focused on expanding the state's commercial ties with the region. Secretary of State Katherine Harris also called for an expansion of trade at a recent Florida International Business Forum sponsored by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
As Steve Liner, vice president of communications for the Tallahassee-based chamber, explains, "Over the years, Florida's economic growth and prosperity has become more and more interwoven with that of our Latin American trading partners. Florida business and government leaders remain committed to fostering our relationships with the people of Central and South America. Located at a geographic crossroads, Florida's ports, financial centers and expertise put us in a perfect position to help develop Latin markets."
Florida's natural international ties have spelled opportunities for all sectors of business. For example, professional services firms, universities, real estate developments and retailers throughout the state often benefit from Florida's Latin American visitors.
In addition, Latin Americans traveling to the United States many times combine business with vacations, taking their families to Disney World in Orlando or to Miami for shopping and entertainment. While the kids go clubbing on South Beach or ride the latest attraction at Universal Studios, the adults can fit in financial and legal errands.
Another Florida-Latin link is medical tourism. Many Latin Americans come to the United States for advanced treatment at South Florida's modern hospitals or for second opinions from leading physicians.
During the 1990s, Florida's trade to Latin America and the Caribbean grew at double-digit rates, according to Manny Mencia, vice president of international trade for...