USF World News

USF International Business Forum Puts a Global Spotlight on Tampa Bay Region

USF President Rhea Law, speaks with a panel of international business specialists at the International Business Forum held at USF

USF President Rhea Law speaks to business and university leaders as they gather for a day of forging far-reaching connections.

TAMPA, FL (April 15, 2024) -- With Florida claiming its place as one of the world’s largest economies, the Tampa Bay Region is emerging as an international center of business, trade and travel with the University of South Florida playing a key role in fueling a talent and innovation pipeline, say global business leaders who gathered for the first international business summit to be staged in the region.

Business leaders at the USF International Business Forum pose for a group picture

In a daylong event on April 10, more than 200 people came together at the USF International Business Forum to take stock of the region’s potential as a gateway to the global economy. Hosted by USF World, the Muma College of Business, and the new Office of University Community Partnerships, the inaugural forum put a spotlight on a globally-focused economic ecosystem that’s on the rise.

“Florida is a magnet for business and top talent,” USF President Rhea Law told the crowd gathered at the Marshall Student Center. “Last year we had an 86% net gain in business coming here … that’s the largest in the country. We have something very special going on in our state, and in particular we have something very special going on in Tampa Bay. We have the environment, we have the ecosystem that will support these businesses, and we do that together because we link arms and make sure we take care of those businesses.”

Conversations spanned such issues as immigration, the talent pipeline, the resources available to local companies looking to expand overseas and the role of consulars general – diplomats from Canada, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico led the conversation – in connecting their countries to Florida markets “We have a very diverse economic portfolio in our community,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “When we look at the international stage, we want to look at how we can leverage our talent.”

representatives from women in international trade (Tampa Bay chapter) at the International Business Fprum networking expo.

Entities such as Port Tampa Bay (Florida’s largest port in both size and tonnage and a key transit center for imports and the cruise industry) and Tampa Bay International Airport (routinely ranked as one of the nation’s best airports) were on hand to emphasize the transportation pillars of the region. Organizations such as the Florida Small Business Development Center at USF, World Trade Center Tampa Bay, and TECO were among the twenty-eight companies and organizations who joined a networking expo to showcase how they contribute to international business connectivity and success.

For  management consulting entrepreneur Lauren Weiner, the co-founder and chief revenue officer of  WWC Global, the Tampa Bay Region’s unique business ecosystem became an important competitive advantage for the company, whose portfolio includes the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She called the evolution of the region as a global business center “astounding.”

“When I first said we were moving to Tampa Bay, people said: You moved where? Really?” Now they say: “Oh, that’s a great place,’” Weiner said. “We can get talent in ways we couldn’t very early on, we do source from USF routinely for all our needs. It is a phenomenal place to start and run a business. It is very easy to get anywhere outside of Florida or even the U.S.… We are in 17 time zones; we have been able to manage a global business in Tampa because of the ecosystem we have here.”

For more information and a list of some of the resources for international business in the Tampa Region, click here.

For pictures of the event, click here.

Here are a few perspectives shared from the day:

    • Ben Hom, vice president of human resources for McKibbon Hospitality, which partners with the Muma College of Business in preparing students to work in the industry, said USF has been a crucial partner in preparing students to work in the hospitality industry and is key to sustaining the company’s workforce – particularly international students who become part of the organization. “Hospitality is a common language,” Hom said. “I don’t need to speak English to show hospitality. I don’t need to have certain words. It’s something right out of the heart.”

    • Thomas Hobbs, chief of staff for Port Tampa Bay, said the Tampa Bay Region has momentum that is feeding its future success in international business. The port recently landed a major shipping company from South Africa, he noted. "The state’s pro-business reputation when it comes to taxes, job creation efforts and regulations is a key attractor...It’s almost like a snowball effect we have here,” he said. “As more people come, the more people want to come. … All these companies coming here are saying, ‘Wow! What is it about this place? Maybe we need to look at it too.’”

    • There’s some friendly competition between Canada and Brazil when it comes to who is Florida’s biggest international partner. Sylvia Cesaratto, the consul general of Canada who is based in Miami, noted the hundreds of direct flights from Canada to Florida bringing tourists and winter residents, as well as a truck pipeline of goods from Florida’s ports to the northern neighbor. Joao Lucas Quental Novaes de Almeda, the consul general for Brazil based in Orlando, noted the more than $4 billion in annual trade between his country and Florida which occurs each year as well as the more than 475,000 Brazilians who now call the Sunshine State home. “Whenever the Tampa Bay Lightning win, Canada wins,” Cesaratto countered. “Half the team is Canadian.”

    • Greg Bobanic, a 2001 USF graduate who is vice president of global IT staffing firm Kforce, said USF’s investment in attracting international students has become a regional strength and a competitive advantage. “The business here – it’s such a booming and thriving economy – they are so fortunate to have this talent pool coming out semester by semester of such a diverse, robust skillset. It’s not just IT, its engineering, its life sciences, its liberal arts. Not many schools really put out this kind of quality in an emerging economy,” he said.