Tampa Chamber calls for veto of bill that penalizes companies doing business with Cuba

TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce is urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto a bill it says will hinder its efforts to attract more international business to the area.

The chamber's board of directors passed a resolution Thursday encouraging Scott to reject HB 959, which CEO Bob Rohrlack said will be sent to Scott's office early Friday. If signed into law, the bill would prohibit companies that do regular business in Cuba from securing state or local contracts worth at least $1 million.

This includes companies from overseas looking to expand or do business in Florida.

"It goes against everything the governor has said he wants to do for economic development," Rohrlack said.

He said the law would create an unfriendly business environment for foreign companies, which would deter them from settling in and bringing jobs to Tampa.

The bill could especially pose a problem for Tampa International Airport, which is targeting Sao Paulo, Brazil, for the creation of a new international flight route. The majority of the state's tourists are Brazilian, and the country is Florida's largest trade partner.

Just one non-stop daily flight from Tampa to Sao Paulo would generate about $150 million for the bay area, airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said.

To attract a new airline, the airport uses incentives that could amount to more than $1 million. If a Brazilian airline also offered flights to Cuba, then the airport could not offer the incentives. That could force the airline to pass on a partnership with TIA.

And if Brazilian companies that do business with Cuba can't set up shop here, the airlines are less likely to see potential in doing business in Tampa.

"When we're making our pitches to a Brazilian airline, what we're going to be talking to them about is the potential for business travelers," Zink said.

The bill was passed almost unanimously by the Legislature in early March, which Rohrlack called a purely political move rather than a smart business decision.

"Foreign trade is the job of Congress, not the job of the state Legislature," he said.

The bill is a step in the wrong direction in terms of economic development, he said. The state and the Tampa Bay region need to stay "open for business."

"We think that (the bill) sends the wrong image," he said.

Tampa Chamber calls for veto of bill that penalizes companies doing business with Cuba 04/26/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 26, 2012 9:15pm]

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