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Trade Trip To Puerto Rico Called A Success

by Scott Maxwell

April 23, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

When 30 Orange County executives and elected officials stepped back onto Florida soil after four days in Puerto Rico, they weren't carrying buckets of cash for local residents. Nor did they have signed contracts guaranteeing more jobs or businesses for Central Florida.

So, some might wonder whether this month's first-of-its-kind trade mission was much of a success.

"Absolutely," County Chairman Mel Martinez said.

Other members of the delegation agreed.

"What we're trying to do is build some long-term relationships," said Darrell Kelley, president of the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida.

Last week's travelers made contacts with some of the island's wealthiest financiers and investors -- businesspeople who are interested in expanding their investments to Florida, they say.

Most of the delegates paid their own way for the $1,300-per-person trip that took them through San Juan's government, banks and businesses. Public dollars paid the way for eight members of public agencies, such as Orange County, the Sheriff's Office and the School Board.

Local executives who went on the trip also made valuable contacts, said George Rodon, the county's director of economic, trade and tourism development. In fact, one local homebuilder and another consultant came back with contracts for new business on the island, Rodon said.

The way Martinez views it, when local businesses are expanding -- even outside the immediate region -- all of Orange County's economy benefits.

County Commissioner Homer Hartage said the trip gave him a better understanding of Puerto Ricans -- who number more than 300,000 in Central Florida.

"I always thought of it as a separate island," Hartage said. "But being there, you get a greater understanding that this is really part of us."

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