Is Jacksonville missing opportunities in Cuba?

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Airline passengers in Naples took their first direct flight in decades to Havana on Monday.

It’s just the latest example of a Florida city jumping on opportunities to do business in Cuba.

The fast-changing relationship between the U.S. and the Communist island nation follows up on December’s announcement by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to normalize diplomatic relations.

Since that announcement, Tampa, for example, has sent business and government delegations to Cuba five times.

Meanwhile in North Florida, business leaders fret that Jacksonville’s missing out, having sent no official delegations to Havana to date.

Consider:

On Monday, Sprint became the first U.S. carrier to strike an agreement with Cuba’s government-run telecommunications company, ETECSA, to provide direct roaming services for its customers on the island.

That deal was signed at the International Trade Fair in Havana, an event that attracted representatives from more than 70 countries and dozens of U.S. firms selling their wares.

“I’m a big believer that eventually Cuba will open up, and once Cuba opens up, this will be the hottest place in the world. And every single American is going to want to see Cuba,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure was quoted at the event.

It’s remarkable that Jacksonville was the top U.S. trade port with Cuba before the 1959 revolution. That seems counterintuitive, but it’s cheaper to ship goods to JAXPORT from Havana, eliminating 350 miles of overland travel if shipped to Miami, then inland.

The JaxUSA Partnership has developed a task force on Cuba, and the locally based Crowley Maritime, which launched service to the island in 2001, is expected to be a key player.

Meanwhile, this week’s celebration of business in communist capital Havana is a remarkable turn of events, one that’s not going unnoticed in the C-suites of Duval County.

Melissa Ross

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at [email protected]



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