TAMPA — Copa Airlines, which began flying between Tampa and Panama City in December, will begin holiday-season daily flights from here beginning Nov. 17, running through Jan. 3.
Copa announced the additional flights during a business forum on Panama held Monday in Terminal 6 at Port Tampa Bay. The Panama-based Copa teamed up with Port Tampa Bay to present the forum on Panama in an effort to expand discussion of export opportunities in Central and South America.
“We are important partners. We work very closely with each other and compliment each other,” said Ferrnando Fondevila, North American regional manager for Copa, speaking of the port. Growing port and other business between Florida and Panama will also help Copa to grow, he said.
“I hope my presentation here stimulates more business” to Panama, a gateway to numerous Latin American destinations, he said. If that happens, more flights could be added. Right now, Copa offers four flights a week between Tampa and Panama City.
The 60 or so business people attending the event also heard that now is the time to get into exporting to Latin America.
“I believe international business is the future of this state,” said Manuel “Manny” Mencia, senior vice president of International Trade & Business Development for Enterprise Florida. “If you are a manufacturer and produce something in Florida, you can’t afford not to engage in international business. If you are not an exporter or you export infrequently, it is time to engage fully.”
In addition to growing local business, businesses that engage in international trade tend to pay 30 percent higher wages, so it helps the employees, too, Mencia told the group of business people, including those in finance, global sourcing, building maintenance and container transportation.
Mencia said Enterprise Florida is heavily engaged in growing the state’s international exporting business into Latin America, especially with the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is now under way.
“Panama is one of the great trading hubs of the world, with a business-friendly government.” And the U.S. has a free trade agreement with Panama, which opens up a lot of opportunities, Mencia said.
Among the top exports from Florida to Latin America are aviation equipment, machinery parts, auto parts and surgical and other medical devices, Mencia said. “Florida is particularly a good exporter of high technology and is one of the leading exporters of (intangible) services” like information technologies, education, software, financial services and logistics, he said.
“It’s important for all of us to work together,” said Rick Homans, president and chief executive officer of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “Just recently, we formed a partnership with Pinellas County Economic Development” to create the Tampa Bay Export Alliance. That group is working with the port and airport, planning a trade mission to Panama in October and a trade mission to Chile in December, he said.