Miami Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort is leaving South Florida Tuesday night and traveling to Warsaw, Poland, on a six-day trade mission arranged and paid for by CAMACOL, the U.S. Latin Chamber of Commerce.
Gort is flying to London and then to Poland with about a dozen South Florida businesspeople and delegates, including Enterprise Florida’s senior vice president of international trade and development. While in Warsaw, they will chat with Polish dignitaries and businesspeople during a two-day seminar at a Hilton, attend a gala at Wilanów Palace, and perhaps go sightseeing in the cities of Krakow or Poznan.
The group returns to Miami April 19, according to an itinerary provided by the commissioner’s staff.
Gort, who is chairman of CAMACOL’s Hemispheric Congress, a networking group for national chambers of commerce, said he’s headed to Poland to talk about public-private partnerships and foster business connections. He’s also prepping for 2017, when the Eastern European nation of about 40 million takes the helm of the Hemispheric Congress.
“We’re selling Miami as the headquarters for the people who do business in South America,” said Gort.
Gort has previously traveled with CAMACOL to Turkey and Paraguay. To allow the chamber to pay his way, the Miami Commission chairman needed permission from his colleagues due to a county ethics law that, barring a waiver, bans the receipt of gifts from city vendors. CAMACOL manages the city’s commercial façade program in some neighborhoods, and has received hundreds of thousands in payments over several years.
Commissioners gave Gort their approval last week. The cost of his trip isn’t known, but he reported $1,566 in expenses paid by the chamber in the fall of 2013 when he traveled to Paraguay on a similar trade mission. In June of that same year, another CAMACOL trip to Istanbul cemented a trade agreement with Turkey.
Poland isn’t high on the list of Miami’s trade partners, according to 2010 figures from Miami-Dade’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Poland did about $44.5 million in trade with Miami, although imports from the country increased steadily throughout the last decade, according to World Port Source.
Patricia Arias, managing director of CAMACOL, called Poland “the gateway to Eastern Europe.” She mentioned helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft as one of the booming companies in the country, which according to an ING study has top exports of machinery and transportation equipment, and manufactured goods.
“Their economy is very solid and they want to do business with South Florida,” she said. “Poland is very hopping at this time.”
Arias said CAMACOL facilitates the trip for local entrepreneurs, who for the most part pay their own way. CAMACOL is paying for Gort because of his role with the Hemispheric Congress, the chamber’s flagship program. Gort has also presided over an annual chamber conference in Miami for more than a decade.
“You can do almost everything through email and phone but when you meet people face to face it creates a sense of trust,” said Arias. “You have to go on these missions, which believe you me are not junkets.”