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Obama visits Tampa to talk exports, meets USF community members

President Barack Obama visited the Port of Tampa on Friday to herald the success of a trade initiative that created a USF department, delivering a small, private press conference in front of shipping containers and industrial cranes.

I was hoping to try out one of the cranes, he said at the conference. (But) Secret Service wouldnt let me. They dont let me have fun. They were more concerned about your safety than mine, though. They didnt want me messing anything up.

His speech focused on a goal set two years ago to double American exports by the end of 2014. One of Obamas initiatives toward meeting that goal was the establishment of the Small Business Network of the Americas (SMNA), he said. The local center for the SMNA is USFs Small Business Development Center.

Obviously, a lot of the exports that leave from America to other places are big business and thats great we want our big corporations successful, selling products all around the world because weve got a lot of small businesses that are suppliers to those big businesses, he said. But we also want our small- and medium-sized businesses to have access to these markets.

During his speech, Obama said exports to the Western Hemisphere are up by 46 percent since 2009.

Thats obviously important to Tampa, he said. Tampa is one of the biggest ports in the country and a lot of the business being done here has to do with trade between us and Latin America. So the fact that it has gone up 46 percent since 2009 is a big deal for Tampa.

In Florida, exports to Latin America specifically are up nearly 30 percent, he said.

(Florida) now export(s) more to the Western Hemisphere than to any other region in the world, he said. And those exports support nearly 4 million U.S. jobs.

Eileen Rodriguez, regional director of the Florida Small Business Development Center Network at USF, received an invitation from the White House to attend the event. She said one of the ways the center helps small businesses double their exports is through education and training.

We have a number of international trade programs in place in this office, she said.

Rodriguez said the office, which is federally funded, consults with small business owners who want to expand their domestic product offerings to the international market, at no cost to the business owner. It also offers seminars that range in topics from the basics of international trade to more sophisticated programs such as a three-part Florida export series, which is offered three times a year.

In two weeks the 24th of April we are going to start our annual international trade certificate program, she said. Thats a seven-part series where we bring in experts from the community. So people like international CPAs, international attorneys, international bankers (and) people from the (Florida Bar Association) to speak to our class (of business owners).

Aside from Rodriguez and Maria Yepes, a business analyst with the network specializing in international trade, five USF students from the College Democrats at USF received invites to the exclusive event, said Savanah Goodland, a senior majoring in American studies and vice president of the College Democrats.

I was fortunate enough to shake his hands and say a couple of words to the president, and he signed a shirt for me, she said. He told me he appreciated the work we were doing I dont recall the exact words I was just so in shock to be there.