TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott will lead a state delegation to Chile next week, his eighth overseas trade mission since taking office.
For three days beginning Tuesday, the Florida visitors will meet with U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff and network with business leaders in Santiago. No meetings with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera appear on Scott's preliminary schedule.
Scott says his presence as delegation leader on trips to foreign lands helps forge ties with firms simply by opening doors.
"You build relationships for a lot of companies that wouldn't get meetings if I didn't go on the trade delegation," Scott said. "You build relationships with Florida companies and companies overseas, and with governments overseas."
Chile is Florida's No. 6 export destination for products. Exports jumped 24 percent last year, according to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development partnership organizing the trip. Chile was the first Latin American country to sign a free-trade agreement with the United States in 2004.
Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member, is going at his own expense, as a public relations consultant.
"Florida, and especially South Florida, is a natural market for any Latin American country," Curbelo said. "We have the transportation and infrastructure, and then there's the language. Everyone from South America feels comfortable here. It's a natural fit."
Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs, who's also going, said increased trade with Chile would benefit the two busy South Florida seaports, Port Miami and Port Everglades.
"Increasing trade between the two is a very important step," Jacobs said, "and both Miami-Dade and Broward have a very strong port presence on this trip."
Port chiefs Bill Johnson in Miami and Steven Cernak in Fort Lauderdale are part of the 96-member delegation, along with port officials from Jacksonville, Bradenton, Cape Canaveral and Panama City.
Others scheduled to go are Broward College president David Armstrong; Florida Power & Light president Eric Silagy; lawyer-lobbyist Fred Leonhardt; and Park Brady, CEO of the St. Joe Co., a major real estate developer and landowner in Florida.
This is Scott's first visit outside the United States since Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned on March 12. With the No. 2 post still vacant, the next official in the line of succession to the governor's office is Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, said the governor will stay in frequent contact with his Tallahassee-based staff with the help of email and cellphones.
"It's hard to imagine a scenario in which he could not be communicated with or provide executive direction," Hollingsworth said.
The last time a Florida governor visited Chile was 2007, when Charlie Crist made a stop there during a tour that included visits to Brazil and Argentina.
Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.