Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Should Be Ready for Cuban Trade, Mayor Says; Alvin Brown Refused to Take a Stance, However, on Obama's Push to Normalize Relations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Should Be Ready for Cuban Trade, Mayor Says; Alvin Brown Refused to Take a Stance, However, on Obama's Push to Normalize Relations

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

Mayor Alvin Brown, who has banged the drum for boosting jobs through global trade, didn't take a position Thursday on whether he supports President Barack Obama's push to normalize relations with Cuba, which once was a major trading partner for Jacksonville's port.

"I don't know all the details of what the president announced in terms of the policy," Brown told reporters after he unveiled an assessment of the Jacksonville area's opportunities for doing business overseas.

Brown said if the United States does lift its 54-year-old embargo on Cuba, Jacksonville should move aggressively to be a trade hub with the island, which is located 90 miles off the Florida coast.

"I think at the end of the day, when there is the ability to expand and compete in that market, we should," he said.

Brown has made international trade part of his economic development strategy, saying Northeast Florida businesses can grow faster if they look abroad for new customers.

In support of that, he released a report Thursday that showed exports account for 7.4 percent of the Jacksonville metropolitan area's economy, which ranks it 91st among the 100 largest metro areas in the country.

He said if Jacksonville area can bolster exports to hit the national average of 13.2 percent, that would translate to 44,000 new jobs.

"That's just if we raise it to the national average, and I think we can do better than the national average," he said.

The assessment report is part of Jacksonville's participation in the Global Cities Initiative, which is supported by the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase.

Brown did not announce any new programs, but the next stage of the Global Cities Initiative will roll out some specific ways to assist businesses.

"We need to help them understand how to compete and really have a mind-set to think globally," Brown said.

Cuba and its 11 million people would represent new territory for international trade.

Jacksonville's port already serves ships going to the Caribbean and South America. Jacksonville has long been a major gateway for shipments to Puerto Rico and is the nation's top port for automobile exports.

JaxPort's master plan already identifies Cuba as a potential market for future growth. "I think that all things considered, JaxPort is right there in the sweet spot," said JaxPort board member John Newman. …

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