Posted at 7:04 PM
Secretary Penny Pritzker on Monday delivered the keynote address at the “Cuba-Forum – Tampa at the Forefront of Historic Change” in Tampa Bay, Florida. During the event, which was co-hosted by Congresswoman Kathy Castor, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and the Tampa International Airport, Secretary Pritzker underscored the economic progress Tampa Bay has made while highlighting how the Obama Administration is working to further strengthen the local economies across the country.
Tampa Bay, like much of Florida, was hit harder by the recession than the rest of the country – and the region’s path back to steady, secure economic growth is unfinished. While their unemployment rate has dropped from a peak of 12.4 percent in January 2010 to 5.7 percent earlier this year, it still runs higher than the national average. Employment has rebounded by nearly 125,000 jobs, but that is still less than the 160,000 jobs lost during the recession.
Tampa’s ongoing economic challenge can be overcome by strengthening the foundation for growth with an agenda that extends opportunity to the all of Tampa’s people and to all Americans. For the Department of Commerce, that agenda starts with promoting more trade and exports.
Secretary Pritzker highlighted the role exports have played in revitalizing as imperative to Tampa Bay’s local economy. In 2013, Tampa Bay area firms shipped $6.7 billion in merchandise abroad. In 2014, across Florida, companies exported $58.6 billion in goods, an increase of roughly $12 billion since President Obama took office. And out of 61,000 Florida businesses that export, more than 95 percent were small or medium-sized enterprises.
One company Secretary Pritzker highlighted was Ambient Technologies, a geophysical sciences firm with 40 employees. Ambient primarily serves consulting, engineering, and construction companies in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, but the company also exports technical services and drilling equipment to customers in Central America and the Caribbean, with 20 percent of its revenue coming from export sales. In fact, according to Ambient’s staff, the firm has benefited directly from past free trade agreements, including the U.S.-Panama Trade Agreement.
Secretary Pritzker also promoted new opportunities that will allow the Tampa Bay economy to continue growing. Among these is President Obama’s recently announced changes to regulations regarding Cuba. In December, President Obama announced the most significant changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years, charting a new course for our relationship. Restoring the diplomatic relationship is, in part, about helping to build an economic future that empowers the Cuban people; develops a genuine Cuban private sector; and creates new opportunities for Floridians and all Americans to do business with the people of an island just 90 miles off the coast. The President’s new policy is designed to help Cuban citizens become more connected to the world outside their shores and improve their standard of living.
The Commerce Department is proud to play a leading role in facilitating more travel to the island and in opening the door to more exports. The new policy allows American firms to increase exports of goods like agricultural products, medicines and medical devices, and building materials, to an untapped market. This will allow our private sector to serve as a force for positive change and as a catalyst for increased economic opportunity in Cuba.
In fact, In recent years, Tampa has felt the positive impact of closer economic bonds between the U.S. and Cuba. In 2011, Tampa International Airport started running flights to three Cuban cities. That year, fewer than 8,000 people took those flights. Yet in the first three quarters of last year, nearly 53,000 passengers traveled through Tampa Bay to Cuba and those numbers will only grow as the economic relationship between our two countries deepens.
Several Tampa Bay community and business leaders took part in the forum. Also in attendance for the event were President of Hillsborough Community College Dr. Ken Atwater, President and CEO of Naturally Green Products and Feet First Amy Mandel, and Chief Executive Office of Stellar Partners Susan Stackhouse.