Sitting in the sparkling new airport filled with high-end shops in Bogota, Colombia, Florida’s booming southern neighbor, it is hard to believe this is a developing country with a recent turbulent past.
This week, Colombia impressed approximately 200 business and government leaders from all corners of our state on a trade mission to Bogota and surrounding cities organized by Enterprise Florida and led by Gov. Rick Scott and his economic development team.
My prediction is that Colombia will impress us even more in the future, and we should take full advantage of natural opportunities to partner. My purpose in participating in this trade mission was two-fold: First, to support our local trade efforts as immediate past chair of Broward’s economic development organization, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, and second as an opportunity to visit with one of our international university partners in Bogota.
With approximately 45 million residents — 15 million in the middle class and growing, a steady 4 to 5 percent growth rate in GDP and growing exports of coffee, raw materials, fresh flowers, gems and precious metals like emeralds and gold — the overall wealth of residents and numbers of small to multi-national businesses is growing. U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley, who helped shepherd the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Colombia, told our Florida delegation that not only is Colombia safe, but it is also “open for business” with one of the strongest pro-business and U.S.-friendly leaders in President Juan Manuel Santos, who received an excellent university education in the U.S. and England.
Business and government leaders met individually and in groups over three days in Bogota, including several from Greater Fort Lauderdale. In my conversations, there was not just prospective optimism, but some of our area entrepreneurs closed deals. These will bring economic success and additional jobs to our community — the fundamental purpose of these trade missions.