Arriving in South Florida, visitors from Spain might feel as if they’ve never left the Iberian Peninsula.
They can arrive aboard the Spanish airline Iberia, drive on a highway that a Spanish company built, stay at a hotel that Spanish investors own, take in a flamenco show, and finish the day with tapas and wine from Spain at their choice of Spanish restaurants.
If they need money, they could stop by the Miami branch of Banco Sabadell or another Spanish-owned bank, pick up the El País newspaper that is printed locally by the Miami Herald Media Co., or shop for clothes at Spanish stores such as Mango and Zara. And if they were too busy to pack gifts for their South Florida friends, they could pick up espadrilles, painted ceramic plates and traditional polvorones cookies at local stores such as Brisa de España or Delicias de España.
If the baguette they crunch down on in their sandwich from 100 Montaditos has the taste of home, that’s because the bread for all the Spanish chain’s local restaurants is made in Spain, frozen, sent to PortMiami in a container ship and baked just before serving.
South Florida has become a magnet for Spanish investment and trade. Not only does the region have cultural and language ties to Spain, but its advantageous location allows Spanish companies to establish an outpost here for business in both the United States and Latin America.
The ties between Spain and La Florida endure 500 years after Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first made landfall just north of present-day St. Augustine in April 1513.
And as Spain moves out of its recession, the investment and trade links between the two are likely to expand and strengthen, said those who promote business with Spain.
“Our goal this year is to make the link between the 500th anniversary and business with Spain,’’ said Mario F. Buisán, Spain’s trade commissioner in Miami. Both the trade commissioner and Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Miami are taking part in networking events and business conferences to tout Spanish companies and products.
The chamber, one of the largest binational chambers in the Southeast United States, has 500 members and maintains a database of 7,000 companies interested in its networking and other events.
Buisán said about 40 percent of the Spanish companies that have planted the flag in the United States are in Florida, and of those, about 80 percent are in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
An estimated 350 to 400 Spain-affiliated companies are registered to operate in Florida. They include insurance giant Mapfre, Eulen America, whose workers do contracted passenger service jobs at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport; Areas USA, the food and retail concessionaire at service plazas along the Florida turnpike; and the U.S. affiliates of Spanish construction companies OHL, FCC, Dragados and Global Via Infraestructura.
“But we know there are more companies with links to Spain,’’ says Javier Pérez-Palencia, executive director of the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Miami.
The reason? Spanish professionals, who arrive in Florida, sometimes set up and incorporate new companies that are counted the same as any other Florida business, he said.
While Spain isn’t the largest foreign investor in Florida — the United Kingdom and Canada were in terms of jobs generated in 2010, according to Enterprise Florida — anecdotally, there seems to be an uptick in interest on the part of Spanish companies and professionals.