Tampa Bay political and economic officials tout Canadian trade mission

October 23, 2015

William Levesque, Tampa Bay Times
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Canadians don’t make a distinction between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
That was the message Friday from Tampa Bay political and economic development officials who just returned from a large trade mission to Toronto to build business ties north of the border. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the two sides of the bay need to cooperate to boost business regionally.
About 70 officials made the trip, including representatives of nine regional businesses.
“The days of Hillsborough and Pinellas fighting about our respective areas and touting ourselves at the expense of others are done,” Buckhorn said at a news conference. “You will never hear that from Mayor Kriseman or I …We compete as a region with other regions around the globe. We’re stronger together as a region.”
Such language takes on an interesting perspective coming just as the St. Petersburg City Council approved a plan that could allow the Tampa Bay Rays to explore new stadium sites outside that city, perhaps Hillsborough.
Officials said the trade mission that opened Oct. 19 and ended Thursday will boost Tampa Bay business exports and help build political and business relationships between officials of the two nations. But few specific accomplishments were offered, though officials said they would release export figures impacted by the trip in the near future.
The trip comes as the Canadian dollar continues to fall compared to the U.S. dollar, which is seen as something of a drag on U.S. businesses exporting to the United States. That does not appear to have been much of a drag on Tampa Bay tourism, which has been booming of late. About 4.2 million Canadians visited Florida in 2014.
Rob Price, executive director of Visit Tampa Bay, said the currency exchange rate has helped lower gas prices. “Canadians are still driving down here,” he said.
And apparently still flying.
Tampa International Airport official Chris Minner noted Canadian flights are up 13.2 percent this year. Nearly 600 passengers fly between Tampa and Toronto daily.
Buckhorn said building relationships in Canada is critical to Tampa Bay business leaders, but he noted, “Ultimately this is all about the money.”