TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott headed to Colombia on Sunday to drum up business with Floridas second-largest trading partner, his seventh overseas trip since taking office.
Scott is leading a delegation of nearly 200, a bigger entourage than any of his previous trade missions.
The three-day visit to Bogota is yet another opportunity for Scott, the onetime CEO of the nations largest for-profit hospital chain, to act as his states chief salesman and promoter.
The purpose is to build relationships with Florida businesses so either we sell something to them or they invest in our state, Scott said. One of the biggest things that we get out of Colombia is flowers.
Millions of cut flowers pass through PortMiami every year, a sweet-smelling part of the $9 billion annually in two-way trade between Florida and Colombia. Other major products Colombia exports to Florida are gold, oil, coal, and mens clothing. In less than two years, Scott also has visited Panama, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Spain, and Great Britain, trips aimed largely at pitching foreign investment in Florida. All told, those trips cost taxpayers more than $332,000, with some travel and lodging donated by hotels and airlines.
Scotts office said hundreds of jobs are being created as a result of the trade missions, including three Spanish companies setting up shop in Miami-Dade.
Security alone for the trip to Brazil totaled $77,000. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement declined to say how many agents are guarding Scott and first lady Ann Scott in Colombia. Also accompanying the governors party are his traveling press secretary, a travel aide, and Mrs. Scotts chief of staff.
The governor noted that in his career as a hospital executive and mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, he had traveled to 43 countries but not Colombia.
Scott, who turned 60 Saturday, already has traveled more extensively than former Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush did in office. Crist made three trips in four years, the last a controversial, 12-day journey to England and Russia with then-fiancée Carole as a guest delegate. The trip cost taxpayers more than $430,000, including $2,200-a-night London hotel rooms. Bush paid a four-day visit to Bogota in February 2005.
Scotts Bogota trip will focus on boosting exports of Florida products and services, which include electronic telephone equipment, aircraft and auto engine parts, and printers ink.
Scotts top economic development adviser, Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope, said the trips build relationships that help diversify Floridas economy.
Were an international state, Swoope said. We need to do more of it, and we need to tell our story.
In Colombia, Scott will lead a delegation of 191 people, the largest of any of his missions, all organized by Enterprise Florida. The governor will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley and will tour a flower farm in Bogota.
The trip concludes Tuesday evening with a reception hosted by Holland & Knight, the Tampa-based law firm with a presence in downtown Bogota.
Holland & Knight also lobbies the Florida Legislature and Scotts executive branch on behalf of various clients, including the city of Tampa, the Florida Hospital Association, and the Florida Press Association.