PORT MANATEE -- A Spain-bound trade mission from Manatee and Sarasota counties this month will put nine local trade boosters and dozens of Spanish companies in a room together to talk about connecting the Iberian Peninsula with Tampa Bay.
Confirmed members of the travel mission include officials from Port Manatee and Manatee County, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. and private business people involved in real estate and logistics.
Modeled after the Enterprise Florida trade missions that arrange face-to-face meetings between businesses leaders from the Sunshine State and foreign nations, the Foreign Direct Investment and Trade Mission is designed to give Manatee and Sarasota counties central billing. The trip was organized by Ivan Mutis, a Miami-area consultant who previously arranged meetings between Port Manatee and a Spanish motorized bicycle maker and an exotic car manufacturer.
The goal of the trip is to persaude businesses from the Spanish state of Catalonia to export to Florida through Port Manatee, and to locate manufacturing, warehousing and other trade-related facilities in the two-county area. Enzo Anzellini, a Sarasota real estate agent who will be on the trip, is particularly interested in promoting commercial and industrial lands. He was in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, three weeks ago to assist in arranging events and meetings for the mission.
"I'll be talking about the convenience to come to Sarasota or the convenience to relocate to Sarasota," said Anzellini, who recently closed a $2.7 million sale of 24 acres of commercial land near Port Manatee. "The goal is bringing investors here and letting people know we exist."
Events scheduled for the seven-day trip include a reception with Catalonia's minister of industry, private meetings with about 250 Spanish companies and networking sessions. Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee's executive director and a member of the trade mission, said these gatherings are critical in convincing Catalonians that Miami and New York are not the only places to do business in the United States.
"We want to show them that the I-4 corridor and the Orlando market and our 8 million people can only be reached through us or Port Canaveral," he said.
Overall economic development interests for Manatee County will be represented on the trip by Karen Stewart, the county's economic development program manager, and EDC President/CEO Sharon Hillstrom. Stewart, who has been on several foreign trade missions including one to Panama with Gov. Rick Scott in 2012, said this visit to Catalonia will focus on starting relationships with the business community there. In time, she said, those relationships should turn into foreign investment in Manatee County and an uptick in trade.
"Everything in economic development takes time," Stewart said.
Buqueras said he expects that Manatee and Sarasota trade representatives will make more trips to Catalonia to build the relationship with the region, its businesses and the Port of Barcelona.
Mission participants will leave for Barcelona on Nov. 16. The cost to each participant on the trip is $2,600 plus airfare.
Others on the trip include a representative from a Miami-based logistics company that will soon begin operations at Port Manatee's International Trade Hub, and an attorney from a Sarasota law firm that specializes in immigration law.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.