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Ambassador unveils Portugal-Florida Mission

Ambassador unveils Portugal-Florida Mission

Portuguese entrepreneurs aim to attract overseas investment

PORTUGUESE SENIOR business executives will visit Florida in September, on a fact-finding mission, to find out how the “Sunshine State” has become such a dynamic economic region, reports The Resident’s Gabriel Hershman.

The Portuguese Ambassador to the United States, Pedro Catarino, will be among those joining the American Ambassador to Portugal, Alfred Hoffman Jr, in Florida between September 10 and September 15. The exact composition of the Portuguese delegation is still unknown, but Mr. Hoffman, addressing journalists at the American Embassy in Lisbon, promised that top CEOs from Portugal’s business and hospitality sectors, as well as senior government officials, will attend.

The mission is designed to help Portuguese entrepreneurs attract overseas investment and improve their performance. A follow-up seminar in Portugal is planned for next year.

Ambassador Hoffman described the trip as a natural offshoot of Prime Minister José Sócrates’ Technology Plan, which aims to raise levels of computer literacy and boost the innovative capacity of Portuguese industry. “We are going to hear informative speeches from CEOs explaining how their businesses grew. Hopefully, we will also spur venture capitalists to come to Portugal,” he said.

Mr. Hoffman noted similarities between Florida and Portugal, citing the warm climate, the long coastline and the potential for attracting retirees and second-homers. He added that Lisbon could follow the example of Miami, now a very popular international cruise destination.

The group will have a packed itinerary, travelling to Fort Myers, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Venice and Palm Beach. They will visit vocational and technological training institutes, as well as successful operators in the leisure industry. Scheduled stops include Central Florida University, where professors and experts from the School of Optics and Photonics will showcase their latest robotic and laser technology.

The delegation will also visit the Miami-Dade Community College, the Florida Scripps Research Institute (an organisation specialising in biomedical science) and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, to learn about the latest teaching techniques in hospitality and tourism. Representatives from Miami International Airport will also explain how they have turned their airport into a gateway for international destinations. The Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, and the Mayor of Miami, Manny Díaz, are both scheduled to host dinners for their Portuguese guests.

Ambassador Hoffman, who was the president of WCI communities, a successful Florida-based property company, reiterated his belief that Portugal has the potential to become “The Florida of Europe”. He cited Florida as America’s fastest growing American state, based on an evaluation of its tourism and hospitality sectors, healthcare and the transfer of pension funds. Last year, 130,000 new homes were built in Florida – the state is now home to 18 million people, attracting a thousand new residents every day.

In a further example to Portugal, Ambassador Hoffman noted how Florida had overcome the excessive litigation and bureaucracy that had once marred business dealings. “Governor Bush changed the legislation regarding legal liability laws. More companies are now willing to take that entrepreneurial risk. Laws in legal exposure must be balanced and fair,” he said.

Mr. Hoffman said that Portugal should have an important edge in attracting overseas investment: “Portugal is very good at higher education. Salaries for graduates are much lower than they would be in the United States, so we need to expose this resource to foreign companies. People in Portugal are also very friendly and eager to help. But training, particularly in the service sector, is perhaps not what it should be. We need to draw lessons (from Florida) for Portuguese commerce.”

Following his presentation, Ambassador Hoffman fielded questions from journalists on other subjects. He robustly condemned North Korea’s recent decision to launch nuclear tests: “They have isolated themselves from the rest of the world. It’s a manifestation of irrationality on the part of the North Korean government. The consensus of opinion of the international community is that they should not have weapons of mass destruction.”

The Ambassador also denied reports in the Portuguese press of a rift between himself and the former Portuguese Foreign Minister, Freitas do Amaral, who resigned last week, describing him as “a man of passion and intellect”.