TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott departs late Thursday on a seven-day trip to Brazil, where he will promote Florida to its biggest trading partner and a South American economic powerhouse.
Scott, who has made jobs and economic development the focus of his administration, was embarking on the third trade mission in 10 months in office. Former Gov. Charlie Crist only went on two trips in his first year in office.
Scott says the trips will help in the long run.
"Basically what you do is you build relationships," said Scott, a former businessman who never held office prior to his election last year. "Some of the relationships are with the government. Some of the relationships are with individuals. The end result is, if two groups can figure out how they can solve each other's needs, that is something that is going to happen and we're going to get more jobs here."
Brazil is the fifth-largest nation in the world, covering half of South America. The vast nation is already Florida's top export market. In 2010, exports led primarily by the shipment of civilian aircraft, engines and parts from Florida to Brazil were $13.7 billion, according to Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development arm.
Scott's trip will take him first to Rio de Janeiro where he will visit a major trade show of Brazilian travel agents.
Last year more than 1 million Brazilians traveled to the state, second only to the United Kingdom. Visits from Brazil were up 43 percent during the first half of the year and spending also increased 61 percent during that same time period.
"Brazil is a huge market for Florida," said Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, which promotes Florida's tourism industry. "We have a significant delegation from the state attending the show. To have the governor join us to talk to big producers of travel will help them know we are interested in their business."
Scott will then travel to Sao Paulo at the head of a delegation of nearly 200 people, including Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, and officials from various Florida ports and airports and companies such as Disney.
Scott said he plans to spend most of his time in Sao Paulo meeting with companies that do business in Florida or are considering it. He also will inaugurate a business matchmaking and trade expo that Enterprise Florida has put together.
Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida's senior vice president of International Trade and Business Development, said Wednesday that international trade is one of the state's strongest economic sectors and accounts for 16 percent of the state's economy and nearly 1 out of every 6 jobs. Florida is the nation's fourth-largest exporter.
Mencia said that international trade will likely be a large driver of the state's economy in the next decade and that in many ways "Brazil is Florida's China" when it comes to trade possibilities in the future.
"Brazil is emerging as one of the great expanding economies," Mencia said. "Florida could be the one of great beneficiaries of that expansion."
Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist, said it makes sense for Florida to build on its relationship with Brazil.
"I think it's a certainly a relationship we want to foster and it's an economy that has enjoyed a more robust recovery than our own," Snaith said.
First Lady Ann Scott will join Scott on the trade mission as well as members of the governor's staff.
The costs for Scott's trip are being divided up somewhat.
Visit Florida will use state dollars to pay for the hotel and meals of the governor and his staff during their trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Enterprise Florida is paying the airfare for both Scott and his wife to Brazil, but a spokesman for the agency said it would use private donations — not state money — for the expenses. Enterprise Florida will also pick up other travel costs for the governor when he is in Sao Paulo.
The two aides accompanying the governor to Brazil as well as a security detail will have its costs paid by the state.
Scott visited Panama and Canada earlier this year. In Canada, Scott met with more than 130 companies, while his visit to Panama focused mainly on the expansion of the Panama Canal. Scott wants to use limited state dollars to help ports prepare for the canal expansion, which will allow larger ships into the Gulf of Mexico.
Associated Press Writer Michael Schneider in Cape Canaveral contributed to this report.