Sunshine state seeks to lure more Chinese investment

Updated: 2014-03-26 12:03

By He Wei in Shanghai (China Daily USA)

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Florida has opened its first trade and investment office in Shanghai, as China's third-largest trading partner in the United States aggressively seeks to lure Chinese investors by showing it's more than just a state for tourism.

Florida is building on already-robust trade ties to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) to lower its unemployment rate, said Gray Swoope, Florida's secretary of Commerce, and president of its principal economic-development organization, Enterprise Florida.

A public-private partnership, the organization's mission is to increase job growth through business recruitment and expansion, and to assist Florida businesses in export and international trade.

"We have an existing partnership with Chinese businesses. The office will build upon those relationships and support investment from China to US and consider the state of Florida as a competitive location in attracting FDI," Swoope told China Daily in Shanghai.

In addition to being China's third-largest trading partner in the US, the world's second-largest economy is Florida's top import market, according to data from the state's Commercial department.

Some 200,000 Chinese tourists visited the state last year, and Chinese students represented the largest number of international students at its universities.

While tourism is the Sunshine State's main business, Swoope wants to play Florida's "business card".

"When people talk about Florida, they tend to think of Disneyland, not the business brand. But we want to assure that they find it a superior market that people can operate in and make a profit," he said.

Sunshine state seeks to lure more Chinese investment

Numbers tell Florida's economic story: the fourth-largest economy of all US states, surpassing that of Switzerland, and the state accounts for 27 percent of total US trade with the Latin American and the Caribbean region, according to official data. And the state's geographical location and multi-cultural and multi-lingual workforce make it the strategic and economic center of the Latin American world.

As Chinese companies mature, the need for manufacturing facilities in emerging markets like Latin America will begin to surge, and Florida's concentration of expertise in dealing with Latin America has made it a great choice for Chinese businesses, Swoope explained.

The state's infrastructure -. 19 commercial airports, 15 deep water ports and extensive highway and railway networks - also facilitates foreign investments. "It is a logical choice to settle down in Florida, as it is truly a logistics, trade and financial center that connects the US with the rest of the Americas," he said.

The US began to tap into the emerging Chinese market with trade offices in the late 1990s. Now 35 offices set up by states or cities are on the Chinese mainland. The Maryland Center China (MCC) founded in 1996, was the first trade office established by a US state. MCC now includes Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona and Tennessee.

Swoope said Florida both cooperates and competes with other US states in garnering investment from China. The state collaborates under SelectUSA, a federal government-led initiative.

Florida has placed job creation as a top priority since the global financial crisis of 2008 and taken several steps to attract investment. The state canceled a personal income tax, a sharp contrast to 12.3 percent imposed in California and 6 percent in Georgia. About 80 percent of businesses are exempt from corporate taxes. It has also streamlined regulations for new businesses by phasing out more than 3,000 unnecessary regulations in the past three years.

The measures are starting to pay dividends. The state's unemployment rate has dropped to 6.1 percent in 2014 from 11.4 percent in 2011.

A majority of Chinese investment in the state is in the form of mergers and acquisitions. Swoope foresees a great pickup in greenfield investment in the future as Chinese firms become global with widely recognized brands.

(China Daily USA 03/26/2014 page1)