By: Jack Roth
Central Florida is perfectly positioned for robust international business, but in order to continue to increase the number of local businesses that benefit from it, we need to make them aware of the favorable infrastructure and many resources available to them.
The Potential of International Business
When the board of directors of the Central Florida Partnership asked Yolanda Londoño to chair the Central Florida International Business Task Force in 2015, she was excited to address global competitiveness and international diversification opportunities for the region. As VP of Global Social Responsibility for Tupperware Brands Corporation, she understood the significance of the initiative and the importance of better leveraging an already extraordinary infrastructure for import and export success.
“We have a robust international landscape, but the key is consolidating our resources and making it an easier journey for small businesses that want to expand into additional markets,” explained Londoño. “The nuances of international business can be complex, so it’s important we have a clear pathway to resources and assistance so we can drive business growth, job growth and regional prosperity.”
The task force achieved consensus on aspirations for the region, five overlapping regional objectives and a roster of potential tactics and programs that demonstrate how the region can advance to the five objectives. These objectives include global- relevant measures of success, civic alignment, pathways to resources and assistance, trade literacy and international talent/ student engagement.
Two years later, progress has been made, but Londoño believes we need to continue to create a more fluid, international, global- centric environment where other countries feel comfortable doing business and where the entire region is aligned to help local business owners make connections with foreign interests.
“We’re progressing towards a one-stop shop and aggregating our resources, which is what civil architecture is all about,” she said. “There are many practitioners out there doing great work right now, but sometimes it’s difficult for small business owners to conceptualize how all of these different resources can help them expand internationally, so they need assistance and direction with navigating that landscape.”
Helping Small Businesses Expand Internationally
For the companies already conducting international business in this region, opportunities abound. However, there are more than 90,000 small businesses in the region, most with no means of accessing new, international markets. In any region, economic stability and strength depends on international diversification, so it remains a regional imperative to ensure these small businesses have access to the resources they need to tap into the international market.
“The number of people who have reached out to me and want to do business with Latin America is incredible,” said Diana Bolívar, principal at Diana Bolívar & Associates. “As a region, our trade numbers are good, but I believe we’re tapping into only 25 percent of what we could be doing.”
Bolívar, former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, assists companies and organizations in their quest to achieve top performance. Among the services she provides include international business development, translation services, branding, business strategy, economic development and personalized private Spanish tutoring.
According to Bolívar, our trade market is not going away, so we need to continue to develop relationships and attract trade to the region. By matching regional small business owners from Central Florida with entrepreneurs from other countries, we can increase our international exposure.
“We have everything in place … airports, seaports, geography, diverse cultures, technology, schools, research,” she stressed. “Now we need to solidify our efforts, and we need to be methodical and consistent with not only attracting foreign investors into this region, but also connecting them with our small business owners.”
Bolívar knows Latin America and the Caribbean want to do business in Central Florida because opportunities remain untapped here. “It’s a natural fit for them,” she said, “and therefore it’s shortsighted for us not to explore these opportunities in earnest.”
A Plethora of Resources
Among the critical elements already in place are resources. Manny Mencia has been in sync with the pulse of Florida’s international business landscape for years. As senior VP of International Trade and development at Enterprise Florida, he is responsible for helping small and mid-sized companies expand overseas to find new markets. His goal is to provide a platform for these businesses to engage in trade with other countries.
“We do a significant amount of outreach in the form of presentations, road shows, conferences, missions and expeditions,” he said. “By establishing relationships with foreign embassies, delegates and business owners, we’re able to develop leads for companies based on what they’re looking for.”
Mencia adds that the focus is on smaller businesses because they are the ones who need the most assistance. “It’s an education process for business owners, who typically have to learn organically because they don’t have an export manager on staff,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for them to use the infrastructure in place and take advantage of the resources across the state.”
Kenneth Mouradian, director of the Orlando U.S. Export Assistance Center, agrees with Mencia that small businesses, especially those who want to find new markets, should find out how they can benefit from entering the international business arena.
“You don’t have to export to be in business, but it does help to expand your horizons when it comes to long-term outlook and business health,” he said. “You’re also hedging your bets when there’s a domestic economic downturn. If you have an alternative product or service pipeline, it can save your business.”
Mouradian, who is headquartered at the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando, works with several local, regional and state organizations that all support business owners and help them secure international business connections. Some of this support is non-obvious, as business owners do not know these resources exist until they stumble upon them.
“The problem is there’s so much support that companies don’t know what to do first,” he admits. “At least in Florida we try and work together, which isn’t necessarily true in other states. Central Florida is great about partnering and having smart regional business models, so the key is letting business owners know these resources exist.
For Elizabeth Krekel, program specialist for International Business Development at the Central Florida Trade Office (also located at the NEC in Orlando), providing relevant international trade assistance and resources is paramount, which is why she spends much of her time putting together international trade seminars and events to improve regional trade literacy. She also networks with incoming foreign trade delegations and provides companies with regional trade data.
“We’re here to help smaller businesses figure it out,” she said. “Our goal is to educate businesses on the nuances of international trade. If they’re thinking about doing it, we want to help them do it right.”
Solidifying Regional Efforts
The thought process of many Central Florida small business owners who want to grow goes something like this: “I’m in a great place geographically when it comes to international business opportunities; I just need to tap into the regional infrastructure and figure out what I need to do.”
“Having someone who can speak to you about next steps is important,” said Londoño. “This is when you reach out for counseling and advice, and this is where our infrastructure needs to be navigation-friendly.”
In other words, regardless of which resources business owners turn to, the journey must be palatable and worthwhile.
“We’re poised for great things, and if we solidify our efforts we can really increase our international presence,” stressed Bolívar. “We live in a global economy, and we need to embrace this as part of our growth opportunities. By educating local businesses, welcoming other countries here with open arms and telling our story, which includes how internationally friendly our infrastructure is, we can gain more international business market share, which will benefit the entire region.”
Central Florida Primed for International Business Growth
To put the potential of Central Florida as an international business giant into perspective, here are some of the things we have going for us:
- Central Florida’s ranking and growth as a destination for visitors, businesses and trade events, and careers is unparalleled.
- The region is characterized by a top-ranking cruise port with a clear stake in the rapidly changing, post-PANAMEX world of cargo.
- The region includes two primary commercial service airports with over 75 domestic and nearly 50 non-stop international destinations.
- NASA, operating at the world’s legacy spaceport, is engaged in ongoing and future projects that will require unprecedented commercial partnerships.
- As a hub of international travel, the region is engaged in the commerce of raw materials, consumer products, technological and professional services, education and training, medical tourism, finance, real estate and transportation systems.
- From Medical City at Lake Nona, to the research park at Cape Canaveral, to the smart-sensor consortium (BRIDG) at NeoCity, Central Florida is in the business of ideas and innovation.
- More than 300 languages and dialects are spoken in the region’s seven school districts, and the higher education community of public, private and for-profits is attracting students from around the world.