Tampa Bay mission to Mexico expected to generate $35 million in trade, but Trump was a topic, too

Pictured during a recent Tampa Bay area trade mission to Mexico were, from left to right, Craig J. Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.; Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, Undersecretary for North America, Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico; 
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; 
Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso; Pinellas County Commission chairman Kenneth T. Welch; and Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council. Photo courtesy Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.
Pictured during a recent Tampa Bay area trade mission to Mexico were, from left to right, Craig J. Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.; Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, Undersecretary for North America, Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico; Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso; Pinellas County Commission chairman Kenneth T. Welch; and Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council. Photo courtesy Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.
Published May 14
Updated May 15

A recent Tampa Bay area trade mission to Mexico is projected to lead to $35.3 million in sales and future economic activity, though Mexican officials sounded out their visitors about the health of the relationship between the two neighbors.

"I’ve got to tell you: When the president is calling them rapists and murderers, it makes these kinds of missions even more challenging," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in an interview after the April 10-13 mission.

President Donald Trump’s views came up a lot during bay area officials’ meetings with Mexican officials, he said.

"They’re very professional about it, but you can see that they are hurt and confused," Buckhorn said. Among others, Buckhorn, Pinellas County Commission Chairman Kenneth T. Welch and Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey met with Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso.

"Part of what I tried to do was to reassure them that Tampa is interested in that relationship," Buckhorn said. "That we don’t build walls; we build bridges. And that we are there for the long run, (so) block out the white noise, the tweets, because that doesn’t reflect America’s relationship with Mexico and certainly not Tampa Bay’s relationship with Mexico."

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Tampa International Airport arranged meetings with Aeromexico executives and another Mexican airline about the possibility of launching direct flights to Tampa. And Buckhorn said he spoke with his counterpart in the port city of Veracruz, one of Tampa’s sister cities, "which is a big port customer, potentially a huge port customer."

Forty-one business executives and local officials went on the trip, and 15 local companies had about 80 so-called "Gold Key" meetings with potential customers. The bay area delegation also had lunch with more than 100 Mexican business leaders, including the CEO of Mitsubishi Motors, Mexico.

What they’re saying

• "This mission generated the largest projected sales figures of any export mission we’ve done so far as a region," said Craig J. Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. (Richard’s comments and others quoted here are from statements released Monday by the EDC.)

• "We came away with excellent leads and important new relationships that will help us make significant inroads in the Mexican market," said Michael Ferris, CEO of Tampa cybersecurity firm Abacode.

• "Mexico holds great opportunities for Pinellas County businesses, and we were pleased to have four companies from the county join this Global Tampa Bay mission," Welch said.

• "The organization of the events, and particularly the Gold Key appointments, ensured that participating businesses wasted no time in making key connections designed to increase exports and sales," Pinellas County Economic Development director Mike Meidel said.

• "Mexico accounts for a third of the region’s total goods exported and consistently ranks as our top exporting market," Starkey said. "This mission gave businesses throughout Tampa Bay the opportunity to strengthen their existing marketing efforts and create international relationships that will further develop and support the growth of businesses throughout the area."

• "Mexico is a huge market for Port Tampa Bay," said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development for Port Tampa Bay. "It’s already our second largest trading partner and impacts almost all our lines of business. ... Mexico is a rapidly growing container market for us, and we have two direct weekly services from Port Tampa Bay and our new refrigerated warehouse shipping there."

This was the first official mission coordinated by Global Tampa Bay, the new name for what used to be known as the Tampa Bay Export Alliance. It was established by the local economic development organizations in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

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Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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