Make Florida your launching pad to Latin America, Gov. Lawton Chiles told Japanese business leaders Monday.
"We stand perfectly positioned to act as the gateway to north-south and east-west trade," Chiles said at the annual joint meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan Association and the Japan-U.S. Southeast Association.
Chiles was one of seven southern governors pitching his state's advantages to about 700 people attending the three-day meeting, including many high-ranking Japanese executives. Delegates used headphones to listen to simultaneous translations of speeches.
More than 800 Japanese firms now have a presence in the seven states, providing more than 85,000 U.S. jobs. However, Florida has been far less successful than its neighbors at attracting Japanese jobs and investment.
"Georgia is very proud of our partnership with Japan," Gov. Zell Miller said, a theme echoed by many of the other governors.
"In these unstable economic times, I'm glad we have our friends in Japan to turn to," said South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr.
North Carolina Gov. James G. Martin said his state has set up special schools in three cities where Japanese children can keep up with what the children back home are studying.
"Our people are just beginning to wake up" to the advantages of doing business with the Japanese, said Jerry Dingle, a Tampa accountant who is vice chairman of the new Florida International Affairs Commission. The commission is charged with helping the state make its programs in international education, trade and investment more effective.
"Building on our relationship with Japan will be a central element in our strategic plan," Chiles promised. He encouraged Japanese companies to form joint ventures with Florida companies to reach markets in Mexico, South America and the Caribbean _ eventually including Cuba.
The Japanese are interested in Florida, said Masateru Ito, the Japanese consul general in Miami.
"We opened the office in January because of our increasing, growing relationship with Florida and our desire to strengthen such relations," he said.
The Japanese co-chairman of the meeting, Takashi Ishihara, also expressed the Japanese delegates' sympathy for victims of Hurricane Andrew and gave Chiles a check for $30,000 for relief efforts.