More than 125 years ago the Manatee Chamber was created, known then as the Board of Trade. The Manatee County business community had a strong tradition of trade with Cuba. In fact, when Manatee County was created in 1855, local ranchers regularly shipped cattle from the docks on the Manatee River. Local farmers shipped produce to the island of Cuba up until the 1960 Cuban Embargo. I suspect this is why our region's members and business community have a keen interest in understanding the opportunities on the horizon as the current U.S. administration seeks to normalize relations with Cuba.
Last week, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce hosted Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas at Renaissance on 9th. With nearly 150 guests in attendance, most representing local and regional businesses, Mr. Cabañas led an engaging and informative discussion regarding the obstacles that must be cleared in order to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. He identified the major business interests in his country including tourism, agriculture, and the medical and service industries. He said the increased number of American citizens visiting the country under the newly created "research" category has caused the island to reach its lodging capacity.
Due to the heightened interest in new business opportunities and the Manatee Chamber's goal of providing our members the most up to date education and support they need to successfully improve their businesses, the Manatee Chamber is planning on hosting a panel discussion in the fall with experts in various fields of Cuban interests. Our intent is not to debate the politics but to educate our members of what the future may bring.
The purpose of the interactive discussion is to further educate our membership on regional business opportunities related to the normalization of trade with Cuba, such as international trade, agriculture, tourism, banking, and travel. The logistics of ferry operations will be included now that Port Manatee has been identified as a preferred port by newly licensed ferry operators. It is important to note the ferry operations considered at Port Manatee would include the transport of both cargo (including new cars) and people to the island of Cuba and elsewhere.
As the Manatee Chamber continues its efforts in building a strong business environment, we are examining the benefits of sending a delegation to Cuba for an up-close and personal look at prospective commercial and economic opportunities.
Robert P. Bartz, president, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at BobB@ManateeChamber.com.