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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 22, 201312:00 PM EST

JAXUSA pursuing Chinese business

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

The JAXUSA Partnership has hired a consultant to pursue business in China looking to expand to the U.S., according to Mike Breen, JAXUSA Partnership International Department senior director.

"The Chinese government is encouraging its businesses to expand outside of the country and become more globalized, so there are opportunities there and we want to be a player in that," said Breen.

He said the JAXUSA Partnership is targeting manufacturing and logistics businesses.

"The consultant is of Chinese heritage and has done extensive work with the Chinese government in recruiting business to the United States. He came highly recommended by Massachussetts Port Authority because of his work with them. Because of the nature of his business, he has requested to remain anonymous," said Breen.

Breen made the comments to a group of about a dozen Wednesday at the first meeting of the partnership's International Committee.

The meeting at the University of North Florida featured an economic report by Canada Consul General Louise Leger, who talked about the $7.6 billion and 559,900 jobs Canada contributes to the Florida economy.

She was joined by Senior Trade Commissioner Marc-André Hawkes and Beth Richardson, head of the Political, Economic and Public Affairs Section Consul, Foreign Policy and Diplomacy Service.

"Canada is the largest customer for 34 of your 50 states, so when you think of where you export and where you sell you might think of China, the EU, but Canada is your first customer," said Leger.

Canada is one of the largest trading partners with Florida, exchanging nearly $8 billion in merchandise 2010, she said.

Canadian companies supplying jobs in the Jacksonville region include Canam Steel, West Fraser Timber, Mattamy Homes and ResCare.

Leger reported that Canada is Florida's top source of inbound tourists. About 3.6 million Canadians visited Florida in 2012, she said.

"That accounts for over 10 percent of our population and they spend about $4 billion when they come," said Leger.

Canadians also have invested in real estate.

"Our dollar has been strong. Canadians have cash and prices here are very attractive. In 2011, 38 percent of real estate sold to foreigners in the U.S. was sold to Canadians," said Leger.

She explained that those purchases might not be for a $6 million penthouse in South Beach, but instead have been focused on more modest purchases along both coastlines of the state.

"There are huge concentrations (of Canadian homeowners) in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, and the same on the other side, along the Gulf from Clearwater to Fort Myers," said Leger.

She said Jacksonville's cooler winters, when compared to other parts of the state, has been a reason why home purchases have been Orlando and south.

"They tend to like horses and cheap golf courses," said Leger, joking about the reasons Canadians choose to purchase homes in certain areas.

Further discussing the trade relationship, Leger said Florida exports to Canada had risen from $3.7 million in 2007 to $3.9 million in 2010, but exports from Canada to Florida have dipped from $4.9 million to $4.1 million, during the same period. This has clouded the economic outlook for Canada in 2013, she said.

"When you look at our biggest trading partner, the U.S., and you look at our second biggest trading partner, the (European Union), the U.S. is still a little fragile and the EU, I would argue, is now with a cold and it's a question of if it's going to get pneumonia or not," said Leger.

She said other financial forecasts have not projected more growth.

"It remains to be seen if Canada can keep up with the growth its economy has experienced. Growth projections for 2013 were revised three times last year and each time the number was down from the previous year. When the first numbers came out it was close to 3 percent and now it's 1.8, 1.9, 2 percent depending on whom you want to talk to," said Leger.

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