Trade trips with a purpose

Miami-Dade is an international hub for trade and tourism. So it’s to be expected that the county’s trade and tourism executives would be travelling abroad to pump up business here.

What’s inexplicable is why county commissioners get to go along for the ride — without any real accounting of the trade mission’s success.

There’s not even a requirement that any such mission by the county-run International Trade Consortium should have Miami-Dade business people participate. Instead, a trip last month to Senegal and South Africa included Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, four county employees and business people from Jacksonville, Palatka, Daytona Beach and Boca Raton.

ITC unnecessary

Nor is it clear why the ITC, overseen by a commission committee headed by Commissioner Natacha Seijas, is necessary when there are public/private partnerships like the Beacon Council, World Trade Centre Miami and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce focused on expanding business opportunities. Ms. Seijas didn’t return phone calls to Herald reporters who were looking into the ITC’s spending, which only serves to highlight the disconnect between certain commissioners and the struggling communities they serve during this recession.

The bottom line is that the ITC — its critics have dubbed the acronym “International Travel for Commissioners”– spent $217,000 on nine trips since 2007 and has produced virtually nothing in return. During that time Ms. Seijas and four other commissioners — Ms. Edmonson, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss and Rebeca Sosa — have gone on what many people would call junkets on the taxpayers’ dime.

Trade trips take time to deliver dividends, we know. And, in fact, one of those trade trips sparked business between the Canary Islands and Miami after airport officials, the Beacon Council and others, among them Ms. Sosa, pushed aggressively to make it happen.

No documentation

In June, Air Europa flights started between Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain, and Miami, bringing cargo and thousands of passengers here.

But you wouldn’t know that from the ITC report because it doesn’t bother to document such things as results, even those that occur with a number of partners like the Beacon Council. The ITC hasn’t bothered listing economic impact since a 2005 Herald report found that ITC claims of an “anticipated” $150 million in business from those missions was pie-in-the-sky bluster.

In fact, the county auditor in 2006 noted that ITC “overstated and unsubstantiated” its numbers and prodded it to establish “realistic and meaningful performance measures.”

Certainly, the other business groups like World Trade Centre Miami do that with ease, reporting the number of contracts signed or sales in the works.

In these trying times, in our global economy, the county and its business leaders should be looking for business opportunities in targeted areas. The ITC, which received $1.2 million from the county, is not necessary. There are groups already doing that work and realizing returns on the county taxpayers’ investment.

Commissioners should do away with this boondoggle.