The United Kingdom is already one of Florida's biggest foreign investors.
Nick McInnes' job is to ratchet that relationship up a notch — a big notch if the United Kingdom achieves its top trading priority of finalizing a new global trade pact.
McInnes, director of U.K. Trade and Investment USA, a New York-based arm of the British government, called 2011 "the last chance" to finalize the Doha Trade Round, a decade-old initiative spun out of the World Trade Organization to lower trade barriers. According to a recent study commissioned by the British Embassy, the Doha Round would increase America's economy by nearly $38 billion and add 393,000 net jobs.
In Florida alone, Doha would create 26,667 jobs and pump $2.9 billion more into the state's economy, the study concluded.
"Our government is committed to doing everything it can to bring this to a successful conclusion. … And Florida is one of the states that would benefit the most," McInnes told the Times on Wednesday during a visit to Tampa.
The Doha trade talks, originally intended to help poor countries prosper through increased trade, have stumbled for years. Countries have feuded over cutting farm tariffs and subsidies along with terms for developing countries such as China, India and Brazil to open their markets to more imported goods and services.
McInnes' role is to encourage U.S. investment in the United Kingdom, along with facilitating British investment in the United States.
The United Kingdom already is the biggest foreign investor in Florida based on employment, accounting for 45,000 jobs statewide. Its $4.1 billion investment in Florida places it third behind Japan and Germany.
In the Tampa Bay area, in particular, the ties have strengthened in recent years. One example: British design firm WS Atkins bought Tampa's PBS&J last year. From the reverse perspective, regional stalwarts such as Raymond James Financial, Sykes Enterprises and Syniverse Technologies have long had a strategic presence in the United Kingdom.
Between meetings with area companies — such as the Tampa office of London-based renewable energy company Revonergy — McInnes talked with the Times on numerous topics. Among his observations:
• Gov. Rick Scott's rejection of high-speed rail funding for Florida was "obviously disappointing" given that British engineering companies were connected to all three bidding consortia. But McInnes predicted the firms would continue to benefit from high-speed rail work in the United States, be it in Florida, California or elsewhere. "These are companies that typically have a U.S.-wide presence."
• Sure, British tourists love Florida. But the United Kingdom is lobbying heavily to make it more of a two-way street, particularly with the upcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, plus the 2012 Olympics in London. Not to mention Diamond Jubilee festivities for next year marking Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne. A half-percentage-point increase in market share for world tourism could create 50,000 jobs in the United Kingdom, he notes.
• Trade between the United States and United Kingdom remained steady throughout the economic downturn, and grew 10 percent last year.
• Companies he's talked to appear confident "we've entered into a period of renewed growth," McInnes said. Businesses are investing again, he added. "What we all want to see is the jobs associated with that (investment) going up."