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Thursday, Mar 30, 2017

Scott’s trade mission to Japan missed opportunities at home

Trade missions are intended to foster trade agreements between countries and to lure business and investment to one’s home turf. So when Gov. Rick Scott recently left for Japan on his 10th trade mission abroad, I said “sayonara and ganbatte!”

All Floridians should join me in wishing the delegation “good luck” in its endeavor to increase international trade and to entice businesses or investment into our job-hungry state.

While in Japan, the delegation traveled between Tokyo and Osaka, a 345-mile trip, in two hours and 18 minutes, averaging 150 mph.

It’s ironic that the governor and his entourage experienced riding Japan’s network of high-speed rail lines, the Shinkansen (fondly called the “bullet train”), on an economic development mission after turning down $2.4 billion in federal funds and guarantees of up to $400 million in private equity from the very country he was visiting.

Because Scott killed Florida’s high-speed rail project, many of the promising details were never released, or they were released after the fact from the Florida Department of Transportation, the agency that Scott controls. The favorable feasibility study was purposely held back from release, the requests for proposals were purposely delayed and, unbelievably, major international firms that wanted to create jobs and bring investment to Florida could not get a meeting with the governor.

Lobbyists who represented eight consortiums eager to bid on the project were stymied in their efforts to get their clients an appointment with the governor. Several of the teams were bringing the good news that they would cover the state’s portion of the project cost above the federal funding, along with any cost overruns and any risk of ridership.

That’s right. They wanted to discuss private equity contributions and the assumption of risk in ridership, construction and operations. But the governor had no interest in hearing what they had to say.

Who were these eight consortiums? Were they fly-by-nights?

Team 1 was a mixture of principals from Spain, Portugal and the United States with companies such as Soares De Costa, Ferrovial Agroman, Talgo, Cintra, Prince and Invensys Rail North America.

Team 5 included companies from Spain, Brazil, the United States and China: ASC Infrastructure Development, Dragados, Odebrecht, CRCC China, T.Y. Lin International and G.E. Transportation.

The governor’s trade missions took delegations to both Spain and Brazil.

Team 2 was made up of SNCF America from France and U.S. companies Bechtel and Amtrak.

Team 6 was truly multinational, with Veolia from France, Siemens from Germany, Skanska from Sweden, Global Via USA and FCC from Spain, and Granite and Jacobs from the United States.

Team 7 had French companies Alstom and Vinci Concessions; British companies Virgin Group and Virgin Rail Group; a Spanish company, OHL USA; and American companies PBS&J, AECOM, Hubbard Construction and Archer Western Contractors.

Team 8 was made up of Bombardier from Canada, National Express from the U.K. and Kiewit from the United States.

The governor and his economic development gurus also visited France, Canada and the United Kingdom on prior trade missions.

Team 3 was primarily a South Korean team, including Samsung, Korail, Hyundai Rotem USA, KRTC, GRDC, KRRI and Korea Railway Association, along with its U.S. partner, Parsons.

Which brings us to Team 4, one of the strongest among the strong. Entities from Japan included Mitsubishi International, Central Japan Railway, Sumitomo Corp. and Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Rounding out the team were U.S. companies Fluor, HDR, Parsons Brinckerhoff, PCL Civil Constructors and Lane Construction, and a British company, Balfour Beatty Rail.

Referred to as the Japanese Group, this team was particularly eager to meet with the governor. They traveled to Tallahassee on numerous occasions to seek help from legislators to gain an audience with the governor.

Interestingly, while in Japan, the governor’s delegation had a scheduled tour of a Mitsubishi manufacturing plant in Osaka, the same company that was part of the Japanese Group’s high-speed rail effort. Scott’s group also scheduled a meeting with the governor of the Japanese state of Wakayama. Seems he was more gracious in granting the Florida business delegation a meeting.

So Governor, if your goal was to reach out to successful overseas companies to attract business and capital to Florida, you need not have gone to the trouble and expense of international travel. Companies from many of the countries you visited were beating a path to your door offering foreign investment, tens of thousands of direct jobs and countless indirect jobs.

I trust you enjoyed your state-of-the-art, fast, safe ride on Japan’s high-speed rail that carries well in excess of 150 million passengers a year. That’s what you denied us here in Florida.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.