Buckhorn confident as he prepares for first foreign business trip

With Copa airlines already flying directly into Orlando and Miami, CL asked Mayor Buckhorn if it was a gamble to try to persuade the Panamanian carrier to offer direct flights to a third Florida city. He said the economics speak for themselves.

"I think we can make the case that by establishing a direct flight to Tampa, they wouldn’t be cannibalizing other locations, but that they would be adding to the bottom line here." He said local officials have data indicating that a considerable number of people now leave the Tampa Bay area and travel to Orlando and Miami to take those direct international flights, so he believes the demand is present in Tampa Bay. "And we think the business travel predominantly is here, and by opening up Tampa to Panama conversely, we open up opportunities for Central and South America for Americans flying to Panama."

During the recently concluded mayoral campaign, while candidates like Ed Turanchik and Thomas Scott were talking up promoting trade with Cuba, Buckhorn resisted that call, and spoke about enhancing relations with countries like Panama, who he says Tampa has a more "mature" trading relationship with.

"It's exactly what I talked about in the campaign in terms of developing and strengthening our relationship with a more mature trading partner." Buckhorn says that another plus for the region is that Port Authority Director Richard Wainio has significant business contacts in Panama, as he actually grew up in the Panama Canal zone.

There has been considerable excitement in Florida's business community about the fact that
the Panama Canal is being widened to enable much larger cargo ships to pass through its locks by 2014. Governor Rick Scott took a two-day trip to the region back in March.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn sounded confident Tuesday night on the eve of his first overseas business trip to try to boost the city's economy — but the attempt to get Copa Airlines to fly directly from Panama City to Tampa International is hardly a done deal.

For years, a group of concerned citizens and members of the business community grew frustrated with former T.I.A. Executive Director Louis Miller for the lack of direct international flights out of Tampa, certainly in comparison with Orlando and Miami. But Miller steadfastly maintained that it was strictly a supply-and-demand issue, and the demand wasn't sufficient for those airlines to invest locally.

But that was then. Now Joe Lopano is running the airport, and he along with Port of Tampa executive director Richard Wainio and other local business executives will leave Wednesday night for Panama, and meet Thursday with Copa Airlines execs.

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