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Puerto Rico Trip May Pay Dividend

By April Hunt | Sentinel Staff Writer

August 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

KISSIMMEE -- During a three-day trade exchange, Osceola leaders met with power brokers throughout Puerto Rico, encouraging business partnerships between the two. In the end, the personal may be more important than the professional.

The owner of a manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico began serious discussions about expanding the business to Osceola in part because of incentives explained during the trade trip, but mostly because he has family living in Central Florida's most Hispanic and most Puerto Rican county.

"We already have the people. We are after the jobs now and one prospective company is looking at Osceola specifically because of those people," said Maria Grulich, the county's economic-development director.

As is policy in such matters, Grulich wouldn't name the company, which would double its number of plants if it came here.

The trade exchange, which began July 31, was designed to improve trade and investment relationships between the county and the island. A third of the county's residents are Hispanic, most of them Puerto Rican. Such demographic ties were emphasized by officials, including state Rep. John Quiñones, R-Kissimmee, and county commissioners Chuck Dunnick and Atlee Mercer.

Officials from the island will get to observe that firsthand in February, when Osceola is tentatively planning a business expo specifically for guests from the island. Existing companies would be invited to present at the expo and to show partnership opportunities, and workshops would explain incentives available for some industries.

"I think that is going to be an amazingly successful endeavor," Mercer said, noting interest in such an event already from Puerto Rican business leaders.

Osceola began to use demographics to its advantage earlier this year. In April, the county's economic development office awarded incentives to its first Hispanic-owned business, a plastics company. P.R. Manufacturing qualified for $300,000 in state and local incentives -- $60,000 of it from the county -- for creating up to 60 jobs. Those jobs will be created over the next three years and pay an average of $40,768, more than double the county's average wage.

Once those incentives were announced, Progress Energy also donated $10,000 to the firm, a service-and-repair shop in Poinciana Industrial Park.

Grulich is also working with Quiñones, to persuade the state to designate Osceola as a Hispanic Business Sector.

There is no cost, but officials hope it will be a valuable marketing tool to show the county is a place where Hispanic businesses can thrive and grow.

"There are issues and challenges," Dunnick said. "One thing we all agree is they are going to invest in bringing business to Central Florida."

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