In business world, think global, then buy local

Published May 18, 2007

No question about the ethnic diversity of the Tampa Bay business community. Just drive around any shopping area and you're bound to see a variety of ethnic businesses: Indian, Thai, Caribbean. And we're not just talking about restaurants and grocery stores.

Unfortunately, in this economic and cultural pepper pot, folks are too comfortable staying in their small ethnic cliques. There's not nearly enough cross-cultural collaboration. Some people desperately want to change that. That's one reason behind the International Business Summit 2007 being held in Tampa over the next two days.

The event is the result of unprecedented collaboration between the Brazilian, Indian, Chinese, Caribbean, Philippine, French, British, Hispanic and Greater Tampa Bay chambers of commerce to showcase the local international business community, to show off what's working and what else can happen.

The summit kicks off today with business workshops and seminars at the Embassy Suites on Fowler Avenue. On Saturday, there's a free International Business Expo in USF's Sun Dome, where dozens of locally owned and operated international businesses will exhibit their wares and services. Tampa philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel, who exemplifies the immigrant-success story, will speak at a $75 a ticket gala banquet Saturday night.

Thanks to the cigar industry, Tampa Bay has long boasted trade ties to places like Cuba, Spain and Italy. But the first of its kind summit is a coming out party of sorts for the latest generation of immigrant entrepreneurs and business executives.

"It represents a maturity of the international business community, " said Maria Crummett, dean of international affairs at the University of South Florida, a moderator for one of today's seminars.

The event is being held at an intriguing time. We are debating immigration reform again and this time, politicians are thinking more about attracting people with skills rather than reuniting families.

The international business summit will demonstrate what immigrants already contribute.

"This is a major step forward, " said one of the summit's organizers, Derek Lloyd, president of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce of Tampa Bay, based in Land O' Lakes. Both business owners and regular folks will be educated, informed and entertained over the next few days.

"It's like a big salad bowl of opportunity, " said Lloyd, a Trinidad native.

But what happens after all the workshops, seminars and fancy displays?

Organizers hope international business success stories provide a road map for startups. People who attend the expo will begin to patronize some of those international businesses in their back yard. And the close cooperation required to organize the summit could lead to more long-term cooperation that can mean more economic and political clout for ethnic groups. That's not such a bad thing.

But all the high expectations must be tempered with realism, however.

"Tampa is not Miami; it's not Orlando; it's not Atlanta, " Dean Crummett warned.

Still there are unique features that define this region as a global community. The summit will definitely showcase that.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.

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For more information

Visit www.ibsummit.org for tickets/information on the International Summit 2007.