Area businesses could benefit greatly from potential opportunities in Cuba
BY BOB BARTZ
Special to the Herald
Commerce between Manatee County and Cuba played a significant role in
our local economy up until the 1960 Cuban embargo.
During the 19th century, local ranchers and farmers regularly shipped
cattle and agriculture products from the banks of the Manatee River to
Cuba. With our community's long history of commerce with this island
country located just 90 miles from the Florida coastline, the Manatee
Chamber of Commerce's goal is to inform and educate our business
community regarding potential opportunities that result from
governmental policy decisions.
In 2015, after the United States and Cuba began efforts to normalize
relations between the countries, the Chamber hosted Cuban Ambassador
Jose Ramon Cabanas at a VIP luncheon. This was followed by a "Doing
Business with Cuba" workshop featuring keynote speaker Jorge Ignacio
Fernandez, a Cuban-born American and CEO of Havana Ferry Partners.
As a result of these popular events, strong interest developed among the
business community to learn more. With the assistance of Fernandez, we
planned a trade mission to Cuba.
The Chamber led a diverse group of local business leaders on this trade
mission earlier this month, with the goal of educating and better
positioning local businesses for future opportunities. Included among
our delegates were representatives from agriculture, entertainment, real
estate, food service supplies, road paving, building/construction,
engineering, economic development, tires and ferry passenger service.
Our delegation was welcomed by the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic
of Cuba and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, and we
received a comprehensive overview on how to do business with the country.
This was followed by face-to-face dialogue between Chamber delegates and
Cuban government representatives from various industry sectors aligned
with our individual delegates, including Alimport, the government agency
responsible for all imports and exports.
Also among our mission priorities was Feld Entertainment's examination
of some of Cuba's premier entertainment venues. We received a private
tour of the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball stadium and the Estadio
Panamericano soccer stadium, in addition to the elegant Gran Teatro de
La Habana, an historic performing arts theater.
The Cuban government was clear in recognizing the importance of U.S.
investment as they work toward creating the legal framework to invite
foreign business investment. Officials emphasized the important markets
of pharmaceuticals, agriculture, petroleum, tourism, food services and
construction, among others, and explained the process for obtaining a
license to do business in Cuba, which some U.S. companies already have
Although our delegation returned from Cuba with an understanding that
numerous obstacles remain until commerce between our two countries is
completely normalized, we believe our region and area businesses could
benefit greatly with our strategic location, history of trade with this
nation and convenient access to Port Manatee.
As communities around the country prepare to engage in business with
Cuba with an eye on how trade restrictions are addressed, we will
continue to keep our members updated on future possibilities.
I would not be too surprised if Cubans of all ages someday experience
the thrill of Monster Jam and discover the enchantment of Disney on Ice
or a stage performance of Sesame Street Live.
Robert P. Bartz, the president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can
be reached at BobB@ManateeChamber.com.
Source: Manatee County businesses could benefit greatly from potential
opportunities in Cuba | Bradenton Herald -