||Chairman Moss noted the Commission needed to discuss the Jay Malina International Trade Consortium (ITC) to better understand its purpose and operations. He also noted he requested the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Beacon Council CEOs to state their organizations’ functions in relation to the ITC and demonstrate that the ITC did not duplicate those efforts. Chairman Moss said critics incorrectly claimed that ITC missions were junkets, and he challenged them to participate in a mission. He expressed disappointment in the comments of the Community Relations Board Chairman regarding the missions.
Chairman Moss expressed concern that South African Airlines, Coca-Cola Inc., and other businesses would be lured away from this community if County officials could not build relationships and partnerships to create business opportunities on an international level.
Mr. Tony Ojeda, Jr, Executive Director, ITC, appeared before the Board and introduced members of ITC’s staff and Board of Directors present at today’s meeting. He advised that a 15-page report on the ITC, including several letters of support and commendations, were submitted to members of this Commission.
Mr. Ojeda noted, in 2002, the County Commission approved an ordinance creating the ITC, which evolved from a planning process that revealed international trade and commerce were significant growth industries in Miami-Dade County (MDC). He also noted the ITC Board of Directors (ITC Board) consists of thirty-three members representing public and private interests; that these members were appointed by the County Mayor, the Manager, members of this County Commission, and representatives of key Economic Development Organizations (EDOs); and that they are granted powers by the County Commission to set policies, organize the ITC’s strategic planning process, and develop a budget with ITC staff every December through the strategic planning process, which the Commission approved.
Mr. Ojeda noted, unlike other EDOs, the ITC represents the County’s interest. He pointed out that the ITC deals with foreign officials here and abroad on behalf of the County, and it is not member-driven. Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC Board adopted the ITC’s mission statement in 2008, which states: “To promote MDC as a Global Gateway by enhancing International Relations, Cultural Understanding and Trade.” Mr. Ojeda noted the focus of the ITC strategic plan was to promote MDC as a global gateway, and its infrastructure, airport, seaport, cultural diversity, and unique geographic location as a logical triangular center for trade with South America, Central America and the Caribbean. He explained that the primary purpose of the ITC was to facilitate meetings that match private sector business owners with their foreign counterparts. He pointed out that the ITC reports the number of these meetings, which are organized as a result of a mission. Mr. Ojeda explained a 2005 internal audit found that sales could not be verified, and that attendees of ITC missions did not want to divulge the missions’ purposes to their competitors.
Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC’s $1.2 to $1.5 million budget is supported by the General Fund, the Port of Miami, and the Greater Miami Conventions and Visitors Bureau. He noted the attendees of ITC missions usually included the Chairperson of the ITC Board, the Chairperson’s representative, an ITC staff member, and himself. He explained that about 5 percent of the ITC’s budget was allocated for travel and trade missions, and that the ITC had never exceeded the budgeted funding level for this purpose. Mr. Ojeda provided an overview of the expenditures paid from County official budget accounts for staff members to attend mission trips.
Mr. Ojeda noted the functions of the ITC work program and the ITC’s market and outreach program administered by MDC’s Sister Cities Program. Later, he pointed out that the Sister Cities program promotes culture and international understanding, and the ITC ordinance enables the ITC to work very closely with the Consular Corps.
Mr. Ojeda noted it takes about 90 days to organize an ITC mission, noting the ITC works closely with the US Department of State and the American Embassy in the selected host country, and each mission trip lasts an average of 2 1/2 days. He also noted it was important that County officials attend these missions when the ITC is facilitating meetings between private participants and foreign representatives.
Mr. Ojeda noted outbound missions were important for building relationships with foreign countries, especially those with rapidly growing economies during this global recession. He pointed out that concerns were expressed by some high level foreign officials that American officials had not visited or taken an interest in their country. Mr. Ojeda noted the following outbound ITC missions to the Bahamas, India, the Canary Islands, Prague, Warsaw, Istanbul, Osaka (Japan), Taipei (Taiwan), Brazil, Senegal and South Africa were organized during the timeframe in question.
Mr. Ojeda noted that inbound missions usually resulted from outbound missions and were arranged by consultants, foreign trade offices, or other EDOs, but the ITC provided inbound participants and foreign officials with protocol, logistics and it coordinated services and arranged meetings between foreign officials and County Commissioners, and Airport, Seaport and EDO representatives at networking receptions.
Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC’s communication and outreach program consists of a live data base that contains the names of import/export businesses in MDC, it notifies interested parties of inbound missions, and it is used to recruit private sector participants for outbound missions. Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC and students from Florida International University (FIU) conducted some economic development studies that indicated Miami-Dade County had the best developed trade promotion authority of USA cities.
Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC worked closely with several EDOs in the community. He explained that:
• The Beacon Council focused on bringing new jobs, generating investments, and assisting businesses wanting to expand;
• The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau focused on attracting, inducing, and encouraging persons to visit the Greater Miami area;
• The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce focused on seeking solutions to problems that vexed businesses, and on creating solutions when none could be found; and
• Enterprise Florida was a State agency and public/private partnership that served as Florida’s primary organization devoted to statewide economic development.
In conclusion, Mr. Ojeda noted that cities in other countries were leading in trade missions and visiting one another in an effort to create necessary relationships that promote goodwill and expand trade. He advised that letters of commendation to the ITC were included in the report he submitted to the County Commission. Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC has done what it was mandated to do, and he encouraged the County Commission and Mayor to sustain the ITC so that it could continue promoting this community abroad.
Chairman Moss expressed appreciation to Mr. Ojeda for his presentation.
Mr. Barry Johnson, CEO, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (Chamber), noted the Chamber’s protocol for welcoming delegations to Miami-Dade County (MDC) is provided by the ITC. He noted unlike the ITC, which is a public institution with a broad mission, the Chamber is a private group focused on addressing its members’ desire for business opportunities with other countries. The ITC, he pointed out, brings these business opportunities to the Chamber members. Mr. Johnson noted the Chamber works in partnership with the ITC, the Beacon Council, Enterprise Florida, and other statewide chambers of commerce; and conducts an average of eight (8) to ten (10) missions per year.
Ms. Holly Weidman, Executive Vice-President, Beacon Council (BC), highlighted the differences between BC missions and ITC missions. Ms. Weidman noted the focus of the BC’s mission was to market MDC to companies wanting to relocate or expand, and to assist Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) or new foreign companies wanting to set up operations in MDC. She also noted it was important that County official(s) accompany members of the BC in their world travels when forming public/private partnerships; furthermore, the targeted companies need comfort knowing that County officials support new investments in MDC. Additionally, Ms. Weidman noted the BC conducted about five missions annually, and worked cooperatively with Enterprise Florida to track criteria used to target geographic markets.
Mr. William Alexander, President, Latin Chamber of Commerce (CAMACOL), noted he was very proud that CAMACOL worked with the ITC, the Beacon Council and other organizations to promote MDC as an international trade hub. He noted it was very important to have representation that could communicate with foreign representatives in their own language.
Ms. Patty Arias, Assistant to the President, CAMACOL, noted that CAMACOL and the ITC were strategic partners with very different missions; CAMACOL focused on small, minority businesses. She added that CAMACOL recently met with representatives from President Obama’s Administration, which had targeted China, India, and South Africa, the very same countries identified and visited by the ITC. Ms. Arias noted CAMACOL valued the ITC as a trusted strategic partner and would like to continue this partnership, and working with the ITC.
Responding to Commissioner Gimenez’s request, Mr. Ojeda explained further the process for identifying the destination of an outbound mission. He noted the Chair of the ITC Board of Directors appointed one Ad Hoc Committee per trade region. Mr. Ojeda explained that the appropriate Ad Hoc committee meets with various community-based EDOs to prepare a briefing book; the Committee’s Chair recommended countries to visit for the ITC Board’s consideration, and the ITC Board Chair submitted recommendations to the BCC for approval. He noted if the BCC approved the recommendation, then the ITC’s staff started working with the host country to develop an agenda.
In response to Commissioner Gimenez’ comment that the Ad Hoc committee should develop a plan first, using desired outcomes to determine what countries to visit, before picking a region, Mr. Ojeda noted the ITC Board knows what regions had been visited before, and a desire may exist to visit a region again. Mr. Ojeda clarified that the ITC aimed to promote MDC as a global gateway for international trade, and based on this goal, it targeted countries that were growing and most of the world was trading with; and the ITC aimed to go to different countries every year to find business development opportunities.
Commissioner Gimenez responded that he still believed a goal should be developed before a destination was chosen, but agreed the process of choosing a destination was up to the ITC.
In response to Commissioner Gimenez’ question regarding the number of contacts with private companies generated by inbound missions, Mr. Ojeda noted since July 2008, 155 ‘match making’ meetings resulted from inbound missions from South Africa, Italy, and Poland to MDC.
Responding to Commissioner Gimenez’ question whether the ITC had ever gone on mission trips without any of its EDO partners, Mr. Ojeda noted sometimes it had.
In response to Commissioner Gimenez’ inquiry whether any outbound missions were joint missions, Mr. Ojeda identified some of the ITC outbound missions that were joined by other EDOs.
In response to Commissioner Gimenez’ question regarding whether the ITC developed specific written goals for each trip, Mr. Ojeda noted the objectives of mission trips usually were: 1) to provide EDOs with opportunities to meet with foreign governmental officials and ensure trade with them by explaining MDC’s position as a global gateway; 2) to provide opportunities for private sector businesses to participate in ‘match making’ meetings with foreign government officials or counterparts; and 3) to develop cultural understanding and bilateral relationships.
In response to Commissioner Gimenez’ inquiry regarding whether the ITC routinely produced after-mission action reports, Mr. Ojeda noted at the end of each mission, the ITC provided a report to the County Commissioners, the mission participants, and the host country.
Following Commissioner Gimenez request that Mr. Ojeda provide him with copies of all the ‘end of mission’ reports for every ITC outbound mission taken, Mr. Ojeda advised that he would provide that information, and that it was available on the ITC website as well.
Commissioner Gimenez pointed out that the media reported the ITC had not kept adequate records or reported its accomplishments in the past. He expressed concern that the ITC responded by explaining that reporting was no longer required. He said he supported elected officials participating in trade missions as long as the mission had a purpose and some accomplishments. Commissioner Gimenez clarified that documenting the expenditures for the purpose of missions would be appropriate for indicating the accomplishments of a mission.
Chairman Moss pointed out that none of the aforementioned EDOs that participated in ITC missions came back with a contract every time. He noted developing a contract took time and the focus of missions was on building business relationships.
Commissioner Heyman noted that no one was disputing the ITC’s work, but the issue seemed to be the County’s return on its investment in missions. Commissioner Heyman noted she has participated in ITC missions, and she was familiar with the Sherman Wynn document. She noted she supported economic development, the Sister Cities program, expansion of the County’s foreign relationships, and the ITC, however, duplicating missions of other EDOs needed to be addressed. She suggested the process be broadened to allow other entities to be the prime facilitators. Commissioner Heyman noted that better data was needed about the mission and that an ITC staff member should no longer be sent in advance of a mission. She noted that before the ITC mission to South Africa occurred, she met with several representatives, including the MIA Director, the CEO of South African Airlines (Ft. Lauderdale office), and the airport and seaport representatives, but South Africa airlines was lost to Atlanta anyway. She said she felt that was a business decision and not induced by a politician’s presence. She expressed concern regarding the lack of reports to support the purpose of the mission.
Responding to Chairman Moss’ question regarding the mission trip to South Africa being a junket mission, Commissioner Heyman noted it was not a junket mission. She pointed out that she expressed her concerns before the media’s article was published.
Commissioner Martinez noted the County did not need to react to the media in order to clear the ITC’s name. He explained that every County department had a budget and a mission statement. He pointed out that all of the information stated today was information available to the public.
Commissioner Souto noted he sponsored the ordinance which created the ITC. He pointed out that the current economy was different and it called for more frugal ways and closer supervision and scrutiny of taxpayers’ monies. He suggested the ITC keep a detailed log of every mission trip from beginning to end. Commissioner Souto pointed out that Enterprise Florida had been significantly reduced.
Commissioner Sorenson pointed out that her proposal during the budget process to reallocate the General Funds allocated to the ITC to support other County-supported services died in committee. She noted her position had not changed. Commissioner Sorenson pointed out that other agencies were doing work similar to the ITC, and that the Airport and Seaport were already promoting MDC as the global gateway. She said she preferred the County focus on local issues and let other agencies concentrate on international issues.
Commissioner Jordan noted that she felt the media was creating news and the Board was reacting to it, and that the media would perceive any presentation on the ITC as a defensive strategy rather than dialogue to educate the public. She expressed concern that the Board was doing a disservice to County departments by making hasty budget decisions based on an economic crisis. Commissioner Jordan suggested the Board start planning how to handle the 2011 budget in terms of relevancy and evaluation, rather than in a reactionary manner. She pointed out that the County used to pay to insert its own information in the Miami Herald to ensure the community received correct information. She asked Ms. Zito for more information on placing County information in the Miami Herald.
Ms. Judy Zito, Director, Government Information Center, noted the County had paid to insert its own newsletter in the Miami Herald, but the insert was expensive, so the County initiated its own newsletter. She clarified that the County still advertised in the Herald.
Commissioner Jordan noted she was not advocating increasing the advertising budget; however, the Miami Herald’s reporting needed to be more accurate.
Commissioner Edmonson commended Chairman Moss for holding this discussion to set the record straight. She clarified that she did not hang up on a Miami Herald reporter, but she explained to the reporter several times that she was running late for a meeting and could not continue the conversation at that time. She also explained to the reporter that Enterprise Florida joined the County on the mission to Africa. She expressed appreciation to Florida Senator Anthony Hill, Vice-Chair of the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, and all other participants for their involvement in that mission.
Commissioner Edmonson emphasized that trade was a major catalyst for the economy, and MDC’s international airport and seaport were dependent on international business. She noted the County was the gateway to the Americas and the Caribbean, and the closest point of entry to Africa from the continental USA. Commissioner Edmonson further noted the ITC’s mission to Africa culminated in Dakar signing a Sisters City agreement, which contradicted the Miami Herald’s report that nothing occurred. She indicated that South Africa was probably one of the few countries experiencing economic growth despite the world wide economic crisis. Commissioner Edmonson commended Mr. Ojeda, Mr. Desmond Alufohai, and other ITC staff members for their professionalism in facilitating trade opportunities for MDC. She noted she was certain that the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Beacon Council added valuable input to this discussion. Commissioner Edmonson expressed concern that the Miami Herald’s accounts of conversations between her and the reporter were inaccurate in the framework in which they were spoken, and noted she felt the Commission should stop reacting to the media when its members were doing exactly what they were elected to do.
Commissioner Barreiro supported the County continuing its ITC missions and reaching out to new markets to create partnerships and contracts. He agreed the Board did not need to react to the media.
Commissioner Diaz pointed out that Mr. Jay Malina was a visionary in trade and commerce. He recalled that the Miami Herald was the ITC’s biggest partner when the ITC was created. He noted trade and tourism impacts every job in the County. Commissioner Diaz agreed that requirements for transparency in reporting needed to be tightened, but noted that all ITC missions were public record. He said he would continue to support the ITC. He spoke regarding the ensuing choice not to report contracts, and delegations not wanting to reveal their niches. He pointed out that Jacksonville (Florida), Tampa (Florida), Savannah (Georgia, Atlanta (Georgia), and Louisiana were competing against MDC, and all had made great progress with their seaports. Commissioner Diaz noted he supported being positive, and he opposed hurling insults.
Commissioner Seijas, speaking as the ITC Chair, noted the media stories were not realistic. She noted any information pertaining to the ITC could be found on its website, in its newsletter, or in the end-of-mission reports delivered to every commissioner at the conclusion of each trip. She pointed out that no misuse of public funds, and no improper conduct or lapses of ethical or moral judgment had occurred. She noted the ITC involved representation from several EDOs; therefore, it was called a consortium. She expressed appreciation to all the organizations’ representatives present today.
Additionally, Commissioner Seijas noted that ITC members were a group of publicly appointed citizens who offered time and talent to ensure MDC was recognized globally for its ability to facilitate and manage international trade. She noted MDC had a story to tell, and its citizens spoke all languages of the world. She noted serving as the Chair of the ITC was a tremendous privilege, and she expressed appreciation to Chairman Moss for appointing her. She noted the ITC was devoted to both incoming and outgoing missions, and had done an admirable job in selecting mission destinations very carefully through a democratic process, based on the potential for new or increased trade in a region. She advised that the ITC would be revising its plan during its retreat next week to concentrate on incoming missions, since the current economy required its priorities be set. She noted it was important that MDC remain a visible region known for facilitating international trade. She expressed appreciation to her colleagues for representing her and this community with dignity and honor while traveling abroad.