With more than 200 people in attendance, Jacksonville made international economic development history Tuesday with the “Jacksonville Entrepreneurship and Small Business Summit” at the Conference Center at the Main Library Downtown.
MJ Charmani, executive director of the IndoUS Chamber of Commerce Northeast Florida, said the summit was the first held in the Southeast since the federal government launched a business development initiative for Asian- Americans and Pacific Islanders.
He said Florida ranks among the top 10 states in terms of the growth of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander population and the summit was intended to provide networking opportunities for Asian-Americans who own businesses or might be considering starting a business.
The keynote speaker at the event was Chris Lu, an assistant to President Barack Obama and cabinet secretary.
He said for the past 2 1/2 years, White House representatives have been touring the country, meeting groups of Asian-American and Pacific Islander business owners to “ensure the federal government is working efficiently and effectively.”
“We know Washington doesn’t have all the good ideas. We need to hear from everybody,” Lu said.
While the community is one of the fastest-growing economic demographic groups, it has not been immune to the recession.
“One quarter of a million AAPIs have been out of work for six months or more. One of six lack health insurance,” said Lu.
He said the community represents 1.5 million small businesses in America.
“The economy will reward hard work and people who play by the rules,” he said.
The Jacksonville Port Authority was a summit sponsor.
Robert Peek, JPA director of trade and marketing development, said there’s an element that is sometimes overlooked that can have a tremendous impact on the economy’s recovery.
“The nut of the message is that the future success of the U.S. economy is dependent on businesses of all sizes being able to export,” he said.
Peek said Northeast Florida is a “great place to have a small business that exports.”
He cited statistics:
• More trade to and from Puerto Rico is through Jacksonville’s port than any other port.
• With 500,000 units moved annually, Jaxport ranks second only to New York and New Jersey in automobile freight traffic.
• Jacksonville is 13th in the nation when it comes to container shipping. Peek said it’s expected that Jaxport will break into the top 10 within 10 years.
Peek said that the ratio of imports to exports through Jaxport has been within 10 percentage points annually and last year, exports had a slight advantage over imports.
He said there is a “robust exporting community in North Florida” and that many resources are available for businesses who want to begin or expand the export side of their operations.
Peek said one resource is the “International Trade Certificate Program” offered by the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida.
The program is a six-week training course that provides assistance for companies who want to develop an export business.
Dilawar Syed, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, commented on the significance of the summit.
“There is no doubt AAPI is driving economic development, particularly in information technology and other technical fields,” he said.
“This is a moment of leadership for this community to step forward,” said Syed.