Mention Britain to Floridians in October and you get one of two reactions. The most common is the enthusiastic reaction to the wedding of their Royal Highnesses' the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier this year. Perhaps some recollect the brief period of British rule in Florida and Florida's subsequent loyalty to the Crown during the American War of Independence.
The next is the British contribution to Florida's tourist economy. Every year, more than 1 million British citizens make the trans-Atlantic pilgrimage to see the best of Florida entertainment, from the Orlando theme parks, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to the pristine beaches of Pinellas County and beyond. These numbers are likely to grow larger when Legoland, owned by the British company Merlin Entertainments, opens this month in Winter Haven, creating 1,000 jobs in the process.
Tourism and heritage have been a good base for a strong U.K.-Florida relationship. They are two of the many reasons British firms — including 56 British companies in the Tampa area alone such as BAe Systems, British Airways World Cargo and the medical device company Smith and Nephew — employ more than 45,000 Floridians.
But they are not enough for the U.K. (world's sixth-largest economy) and Florida (the world's 20th if Florida were an independent state) to grow and prosper amid 21st century global economic challenges. That's why this month marks a new chapter in our relationship, as the best of the Sunshine State travels to London for the best of British autumnal blue skies and fall foliage.
Events launch (pun fully intended) on Nov. 10 when Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll leads 15 companies and representatives from the Universities of Florida and Central Florida, NASA and Space Florida on a three-day trade mission. Organized by the commercial arm of the British Government, UK Trade and Investment, the mission will meet companies and researchers in London from the U.K.'s growing $7.5 billion space sector. They will discuss co-operation and investment before going to see the latest U.K. aerospace technology and capability at the Harwell Space Centre in Oxfordshire. Previous trade missions have led to jobs and investment: In March this year a meeting between Jennifer Carroll and U.K. aerospace companies helped the U.K. firm Cella Energy take the decision to open its facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
After the aerospace mission comes something focused on the essential prerequisite for our future and our technology: education. Many of the challenges facing Florida and the U.K. have a research and development core: from cures for chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes to how to deliver our energy security through clean and renewable energy.
So from Oct. 13-15 the University of South Florida will bring its expertise in research and innovation to London for a three-day exposition to leading U.K. and European higher education institutions. USF is one of America's fastest-growing research universities, a leader in new U.S. patents and an emerging destination for international students. USF researchers and faculty will use this event to make the case for closer international collaboration in the fields of innovation, technology and science.
This makes sense. Together America and Britain account for the majority of Nobel prizes awarded, very often for joint work. More than 60 percent of the world's leading universities are either in the United States or in the U.K. and the United States remains the top choice for British students with nearly 9,000 studying at American universities. Together, these educational experiences deliver not just tangible results but also educate each other on our ideals, values and culture.
Finally, American culture will be on full show on Oct. 23 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Chicago Bears in front of a sellout crowd of 85,000 in Wembley Stadium, London. The Bucs can count on our strong support — despite Jennifer Carroll's familial ties to the Miami Dolphins — for a win. That will be a fitting end to a month of Florida and U.K. activity that expands and deepens our bilateral relationship further.
Alistair Burt, MP, is the parliamentary undersecretary of state at British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.