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The Bradenton Herald
Manatee Looks South For Trade Potential Latin Chamber Courts Puerto Rico Official
February 20, 2003
With the exponential increase in Hispanics in the area, local business leaders are determined to use their ethnic heritage to increase trade between Southwest Florida and Puerto Rico.
In May, the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce plan to open their first trade office in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan.
Citing long-standing trade ties between other areas of Florida and the Caribbean, Jorge Chacon, head of Jorolco International Ventures in Osprey, said, "Other cities - Tampa, Orlando, Miami - are definitely ahead. It's time we caught up."
With its "business friendly" reputation, Manatee County could receive substantial economic benefits from the new trade initiatives, he said.
"Manatee County is particularly well-suited to gain in the international trade area," he said.
Chacon, a director of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said the potential trade market between Puerto Rico and Southwest Florida is "huge" and largely untapped. In Manatee County, the Hispanic population grew by 160 percent between 1990 and 2000, climbing from 9,424 to 24,540, to become at 9 percent the county's largest minority population.
The percentage of Hispanics is even higher in Sarasota County.
"The public just has not been informed about the possibilities, and our chambers have not had the visibility that's needed to develop international trade and commerce," Chacon said.
The San Juan trade office, he said, is the first of several initiatives that is intended to change that situation.
The chambers also are organizing monthly meetings to get together with businessmen from countries in Latin and South America to identify other trade possibilities, he said.
At a chamber-sponsored event Wednesday, leaders of the two chambers and the president of the Federation of Puerto Rico Mayors, Carlos Mendez, signed an accord, pledging to work together to identify opportunities to develop trade between the areas.
Public officials from the Manatee-Sarasota area and Puerto Rico said trade has been impeded by lack of information and communication, two factors the new trade office is intended to correct.
Palmetto city councilman Charlie Grace said although business owners there have not tried to create an international presence, the accord might encourage them to do so.
"We should be thinking more about international trade. It would definitely benefit the city," he said.
On his first trip to the Bradenton-Sarasota area, Mendez, the mayor of Aguadilla, said he was impressed by the potential of Port Manatee and the role it might play in helping to develop trade between the two areas.
He also said he was eager for the trade office to open.
"It will be like having them (Hispanic leaders) home, back in Puerto Rico," he said.