Tampa Bay And Colombia: Growing Trade Partners In The Global Economy

The world is flat. This is not new. Most of us have been hearing this aphorism for some time now. In fact we hear it so often; many of us have begun to find the phrase to be trite.  A recent trade mission to Colombia has led to a new appreciation for how flat the world really is for more than 30 participants from Tampa Bay.

To most Americans, Colombia conjures up images of Narcotraffickers and guerilla terrorists. After years of U.S. assisted efforts to combat these challenges, Colombia has transformed from being a failed state to a Latin American powerhouse. In the past 10 years, the middle class has doubled in size and GDP has risen 4.3 percent a year, on average. Last year, Colombia boasted a GDP of $365 billion and aims to surpass Argentina as Latin America's second-largest economy.

A third of Colombians living in the United States call Florida their home and Colombia represents Florida's second-largest trading partner with Florida-Colombia trade in goods at $7.6 billion in 2011. On May 15, 2012, the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) went into effect. According to Enterprise Florida, CTPA could increase Florida sales to Colombia by another $345 million in the next year.

It was for these reasons that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation organized a trade mission in partnership with sister cities to Barranquilla, Tampa's oldest sister city.

The Tampa Bay participants represented a diverse group of industries. Each company was vetted prior to being accepted to join the trade mission to ensure that they had products or services that would be of interest to the Colombian markets. Each company was set up with one-to-one matchmaking services provided by the U.S. Commercial Services' Gold Key program.

Participants were provided with a handbook that detailed some characteristics of doing business in Latin America. One of which was that it takes time to build commercial relationships with Latin American companies and executives, who prefer to take their time getting to know who they are working with before committing to a contract. This was my experience as president of Absolute Mobile Solutions in already securing agreement with some of Bogota's business leaders to hold a Mobile Marketing workshop in mid-February, 2013.

Although we [Absolute] did not sign any new contracts on this trip, I continue to believe that Colombia will be an early stage of our Latin American expansions. Things move slower in Latin America, where personal relationships hold more weight than marketing efforts. It takes time and dedication to build commercial relationships in this part of the world.

Creating Jobs, Growing Businesses

One thing that was clear on this mission was that creating additional business outside the United States would create jobs both abroad and at home.

Richard D. Munoz, the commercial development manager for SureCrete Design Products in Dade City, says that they are in continuing conversations about two projects to begin within the next two months. If these projects start as expected, they would lead to two to three new hires.

The trip "was well organized and provided very knowledgeable participants from the Colombian side who understand our market segment and are looking for viable solutions to issues they face in construction,'' says Munoz. "I would see our company benefiting from attendance at other trade missions to Latin America.''

Colombia's long history of trade with the United States and strong ties to Florida make it a natural partner for Tampa Bay-based businesses. With a look back on their troubled history and a look forward at their continued achievements, Colombia has chosen an apt slogan to promote tourism and trade, "Colombia, the only risk is that you might not want to leave.''

Alfred Goldberg, president of Absolute Mobile Solutions in Tampa and a member of Leadership Florida, participated in the Tampa delegation that accompanied Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida on a trade mission to Colombia. He wrote this column as a special report for 83 Degrees Media. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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