Coffee, Sugar and the French American Chamber of Commerce.

It was cool crisp morning in Brickell, an upscale high-rise area next to Miami’s downtown district.

The sun glistened on the skyscrapers as the early birds and young business people swarmed the sidewalks with that busy-body mode our modern cities have come to know so well.

The French American Chamber of Commerce gained a new president and a dozen patrons and trustees were meeting on the 25th floor of the Conrad Hotel. Beautiful and luxurious cars were valeted one after the other, as a plethora of entrepreneurs arrived and checked into the building. Yet, only a handful them would meet on this day, in support and representation of the French American Chamber of Commerce (FACC) in Florida.

The “FACC Florida” is a not-for-profit organization designed to improve and maintain business relationships between France and the United States, serving the needs of corporate and individuals in the South Florida area. On January 31st, 2018, the organization hosted a breakfast meeting for trustee and patron members to meet the new FACC President, Alain Ouelhadj and Mr. Clément Leclerc, the Consul General of France.

The hotels haute art framed the journey into the building, accented by the sound of hurried rolling briefcases. We were shown into the corner conference room with a view of the bay, framed by silver high-rises and cruise ships. It was a meeting of the cream of the crop, 14 members sat around a conference table decorated by French and American flags.

The new leadership.

Mr. Ouelhadj, the new president, opened the meeting. Today the main topic was strategy and orientation. The group of intelligent and open-minded trustees took turns introducing themselves as the first course was brought out, a delicious plate of fruit and yogurt. Mr. Clement Leclerc took over the meeting, going over a variety of important matters. In the last 15-20 years, the French population in Miami has increased by 30%, he pointed out that most French individuals register themselves before elections, showing their interest in government and state policy.

“It is important to put our focus towards our French assets, to promote them, to educate them,” he said. Much like Florida, France is a tourist destination hosting 8-9 million tourists a year. With the wave of new Mayors in the South Florida area, the FACC must focus on fostering new relationships and build on tourism promotion for the benefit of all with aim towards the seeding and development of French companies.

Let’s talk about the “European mindset.”

As the main course of delicious omelet, potatoes and bacon went around the room with the zest of freshly brewed coffee absconding everyone, the topic switched. The “European mindset” was put on the spotlight. Cyril Darmouni of Exco US took the floor to portray to everyone that too many businesses fail because expats come to the US with the wrong frame of mind, unprepared for the hardships the country places on new businesses. A few of the law professionals put a focus on the current state and difficulty of attaining visas and the recent denials for entrepreneurs. But, it isn’t only the French companies that are failing.

“There is a reason the IRS gives tax breaks to businesses in the first 5 years…” began Griselle Chernys, CEO of WellAway Limited, an international health insurance company. “… Because they do not expect them to make money, 80% of small businesses fail the first 5 years, and those aren’t just European companies. Additionally, every state poses its own difficulty, moving from one state to the others can be like changing countries,” she continued. WellAway Ltd is based out of Bermuda, and Ms. Chernys has decades of experience dealing with groups and individuals hailing all around the world, considering all individuals and companies need good coverage. Her company covers groups, embassies, organizations and individuals, and many more, on a global scale.

The birth of a task force.

These are the conversations that change our world. A big focus was the success of young businesses and the education and regulation of their business plans. As of now, the experienced and knowledgeable entrepreneur members of the organization only informally advised the young, up and coming organizations and businesses, but only when approached. Something must be done to teach the newly arrived expatriates the ways of business in the country and the meeting showed hints of creating a group dedicated to doing just that. Should the FACC hire more to take on this task? Should they contract a third party? The conversation continued with thoughts of the dangers of bad representation, short-term brokers and other speed bumps facing commercial growth.

After a discussion of upcoming events, the meeting was adjourned. Just a couple of minutes of networking before concluding and everyone was off. As the stone-bejeweled elevator took us down the Conrad building, one is led to ponder:

This is only the beginning.

by: Armando A Diaz, Writer



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