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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Roundtable with the Tampa Bay Chamber in Tampa, Florida


Introduced by Bob Rohrlack, President and CEO, Tampa Bay Chamber 

Thank you, Dr. Rohrlack, for the kind introduction. And a warm welcome to Mayor Castor who joins us today. And my congratulations to the Tampa Bay Chamber, as you celebrate 135 years of dedicated service to your mission of “enhancing the community by building business success” in Tampa.

Thank you also to your member companies in the “Big Guava” city, and your workers, families, and communities who are the lifeblood of your local economy. Interestingly, I am told that despite your city’s moniker, guavas are rarely grown here.

In 1884, businessman Gavino Guttierez traveled to Tampa from New York intending to grow and sell the fruit. But finding that guava trees did not survive well in the local climate, he shifted his focus to the cigar trade, an industry that eventually became a commercial cornerstone of the city. In 1929, more than 500 million cigars were hand-rolled in Tampa. And their popularity drove growth in tourism, agriculture, and construction – industries still prominent in your city today.

So as Tampa Bay Tribune and Tampa Times reporter Steve Otto wrote when he coined the nickname in the 1970s, “We owe it all to the guava!”

I am also pleased to be in the city where Babe Ruth hit his record-breaking 587-foot home run. Indeed, Tampa’s history is no stranger to exciting events that take place when travelers journey to your city.

And as your economy recovers from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am optimistic your visitors will return in greater volume. Once the all-clear sounds on the virus, there will be pent-up demand in the tourism sector. And despite recent re-closures, your restaurants and retail establishments will re-open again.

With Americans saving more than $21 trillion between March and August, and personal savings peaking at a rate of 33 percent in April, we can expect that they will be ready to spend more in these enterprises in the very near-term. 

Consumer spending’s steady rebound month over month is a promising trend, with its increase from $11 trillion during April to $12.8 trillion during August. Encouragingly, Americans are spending more in our economy now than they did when President Trump first arrived in office.

In addition, one million Floridians returned to work between April and August – 100,000 of them here in the Tampa Bay region. The latest data indicates that unemployment in the Tampa-Clearwater-St. Petersburg region dropped by 6.4 percent since April and is currently lower than both the Florida unemployment rate and the national unemployment rate. This is all reassuring news for your businesses and your workers.

It can’t be understated that our progress through the recovery period is due in no small part to the President’s swift action signing the CARES Act. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act contained provisions for workers, families, large and small businesses, and communities. Importantly, it provided $32.3 billion to more than 432,000 Florida companies with fewer than 500 employees through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). And there is still another $133 billion that is available under the PPP to be loaned.

The Administration continues to work with Congress on quick passage of another stimulus bill, so I am hopeful that we will see additional relief soon. In the meantime, my Department is putting its resources behind rebuilding the U.S. economy and strengthening our global commercial ties here in Florida and across the country.

For example, since the beginning of President Trump’s term in office, the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has invested more than $110 million in 31 projects to help Florida recover from natural disasters and drive the state’s economic growth.

EDA also invested more than $18.5 million in 16 Opportunity Zone projects in the state, including a $7.5 million grant to the Pinellas County Board of Supervisors that establishes the Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator. Tampa is Florida’s top technology market, with more than 50,000 technology workers in diverse industries. And this grant, awarded in July 2019, will further harness the region’s entrepreneurial spirit by providing space and tools for your innovators to grow their businesses and create more jobs when the Incubator is completed.

Furthermore, as an exporting powerhouse, your state also has much to gain from the newly entered into force USMCA. While Florida ranked an impressive 7th out of our 50 states for exports – with more than 40,000 companies exporting $56 billion in goods last year – the Tampa area alone exported $5 billion worth of goods. In fact, your region ranks second in the entire state in global export volume. Notably Canada and Mexico were Florida’s number 2 and number 3 destinations for exports last year, together totaling $7.7 billion.

So when the President successfully negotiated USMCA, he immediately leveled the playing field for your companies doing business with both countries. The agreement will generate even more economic growth while the pandemic subsides. Specifically, the new rules of origin will help re-shore production and re-establish domestic supply chains in many industrial sectors. 

Since USMCA went into effect in July, the U.S. Government has been busy implementing this ground-breaking trade deal. We have:

  • Issued new tariff schedules and duty rates;
  • Released guidelines to administer the high-wage component of the labor-content requirements;
  • And put in place labor enforcement provisions that are written into the agreement.

We will continue to engage closely with Mexico and Canada as we fortify the world’s largest trading block under this agreement.

Now I am eager to hear your ideas on how we can continue working together to revitalize our industries and communities, generate thousands more good jobs, and create an economy that is resilient, and can withstand any future shock.

Thank you, and I look forward to our discussion.