Guest Column: Congresswoman Kathy Castor

112_castor_fl11The United States and Cuba will officially reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies on July 20. In doing so, we have turned the page on 50 years of acrimony between our two countries. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has been an important part of making progress. Thank you. The Obama Administration’s change in policy is intended to empower the Cuban people and support the emergence of a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba. An embassy in Havana will enable America to effectively promote our interests, protect and assist American citizens traveling to Cuba, and increase engagement with the Cuban people. An embassy is not a gift to a foreign country, but represents a sign that two countries are committed to deepening bilateral relations.

Formal diplomatic ties are especially important to families in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida. Our state policymakers should follow suit to boost student, cultural, religious and business exchanges. I have discussed opening a consulate in Tampa with U.S. State Department and Cuban officials. I am hopeful such discussions will bear fruit, especially with the support of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and so many leaders in our community who understand the historic ties between Tampa and Havana and the economic opportunities that come with becoming a Gateway to Cuba.

A couple of months ago, I was reminded of our deep, historic roots with Cuba when I DSC_0451smallmet with the former Tampa Cuban Consul, Raul Villamia, 90, to review the history of the Tampa-based consulate, coincidentally at the exact same time that Cuba was officially removed from the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which has been cited as a stumbling block for more meaningful engagement between the United States and Cuba. I pledged to him that Tampa Bay would work to return the consulate to Tampa. With the Chamber’s help, we can make it a reality.

Thank you Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for seizing the opportunity to lead on engagement and encourage human rights and economic reforms in Cuba.

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Invitation To Chile Trade Mission, December 1-5

I would personally like to invite you to join  us for the Tampa Bay Trade Mission to Chile scheduled for December 1 – 5, 2014.  This mission marks the first official activity of the Tampa Bay Export Alliance,  a partnership between the Tampa Hillsborough EDC and Pinellas County Economic Development, and it’s an opportunity to show strong regional support for Copa Airlines and its non-stop service to Panama City and points beyond. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with Tampa International Airport and our regional partners, including the EDC, to win the Copa business and this  mission makes the strongest possible statement regarding community support. I will be going on the trip along with Ron Christaldi, the Chair-elect of the GTCC.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Hillsborough County Commissioner Lesley “Les” Miller, Jr. and Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel will set the bi-county tone of the initiative by leading the delegation to this vibrant Latin American country.

Our entire Hillsborough County economic development  “A” team will join us, including the EDC, Tampa International Airport, Port Tampa Bay and Visit Tampa Bay. Pinellas County Economic Development is working to bring its partners in Pinellas County, and the Tampa Bay Partnership will join the delegation as well.  The Tampa Bay Export Alliance is partnering with Copa as the official mission carrier.  During the visit, our regional visitor bureaus will be launching an in-country marketing campaign  to drive even more tourism, business and passengers to Tampa Bay.  These missions are a perfect example of how laser focused and closely aligned we are in developing our international opportunities.

In addition to our business and political ambassadors, the EDC will have approximately 15 companies taking part in an official United States Commercial Service Gold Key Matchmaker meeting with potential partners and buyers in Chile. These companies represent some of our region’s major  employers, manufactures and exporters. These are the companies that fill our planes, use our ports and directly support our efforts to grow both.

This mission will also feature a “Doing Business in Tampa Bay” event in partnership with Select USA.  This is the opportunity for us to sell our community to potential businesses that are looking at establishing a US presence. It is important that they get the opportunity to meet some of you, the business leaders, and learn about the Tampa Bay business community.

On a recent advance trip, Lorrie Belovich, the EDC’s Director of International Business Development and Deborah Wilkinson of the Tampa Bay Trade and Protocol Council  met with the Embassy team, Chile Copa representatives, AmCham Chile, Trade Chile and many other partners who are very eager to welcome us and learn more about Tampa Bay.  Both the U.S. Ambassador and the Mayor of Santiago are rolling out the red carpet for our delegation.

I hope you will consider joining us and help fly the international flag of our community, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

CLICK HERE to view the mission brochure.

To register, please visit the link below: www.rsvpbook.com/tampabayexportalliance

With best regards,

Mr. Bob Rohrlack

President & CEO

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.