FORT LAUDERDALE — The mayors of Fort Lauderdale, Miramar and Broward County traveled to Dubai to network and mingle with super-wealthy investors and high-level dignitaries in the city of gold.
The trip, a week-long trade mission in late March aimed at attracting investment and attention from one of the world’s most elite financial centers, was not free.
That fact sparked a sandstorm at home, with critics speculating on the cost of the trip.
We have the answer :
Fort Lauderdale spent $35,114.94 to send Mayor Dean Trantalis and three city officials on the trip. The trip would have cost $38,180.04 if Trantalis had not written a personal check to the city for $3,066 on May 3 to cover part of his airfare.
Miramar spent $20,239.73 to send Mayor Wayne Messam, Commissioner Maxwell Chambers and four city officials to Dubai. Several officials brought family members and personally paid for their trip. The mayor says he saved the city more than $2,000 by paying 60% of his trip.
Broward County paid $12,051.62 to send Mayor Michael Udine and one of his economic development specialists to help build relationships in the United Arab Emirates. Udine, whose trip was approved by his commission colleagues earlier this year, brought his wife but did not charge the county any of her costs.
Together, the county and the two cities spent nearly $70,000, although Fort Lauderdale spent more than Miramar and the county combined.
The genesis of the trip was an official invitation from Dubai last fall to Broward County to attend the country’s annual investment meeting and promote the region. Broward County extended an invitation to all cities, but only Miramar and Fort Lauderdale jumped on board.
Was it worth it?
Most definitely, say the three mayors, although they admit we may not see results right away.
“It takes time to build relationships,” Trantalis said. “They want to come here and see firsthand who we are before investing money in our community. I think the trip was so worth it because we made important connections that we wouldn’t have made otherwise. And knowing their appetite for overseas investment, I think it will pay off. But it is too early to say what it will be and in what areas.
During this whirlwind trip, Trantalis met delegates at the annual investment meeting and also attended the Global Government Summit and Investopia meetings.
“It was a very aggressive schedule to try to meet as many people as possible and make connections,” Trantalis said. “One of the ministers we met from the UAE will be coming here in the next two weeks and then leaving for Miami, DC and New York. But his first stop is Fort Lauderdale and that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t not made these connections.
Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade of the United Arab Emirates, will visit Fort Lauderdale on June 23.
This news did not impress Craig Fisher, a Fort Lauderdale promoter who still thinks it was a waste of taxpayers’ money to send the mayor and his entourage on a trade mission nearly 8,000 miles away.
“During Covid, we’ve all done well with Zoom calls,” Fisher said. “Why can’t city officials and staff make a Zoom call in Dubai? Why did it have to be in person? I don’t know what value the people of Fort Lauderdale could get from them by going so far and spending all that money.
Resident Robert Walsh, a frequent critic of the commission, guessed early on that the trip around the world would likely cost up to $30,000.
“We paid for the hotel, airfare and meals,” he said. “Why? Why go there and spend our money on a dream trip? Emails would have been enough. Going there at that price was too excessive.
Walsh also criticized Fort Lauderdale officials for flying business class when they could have saved money by flying coach.
Trantalis dismissed the critics as malcontents “hiding in their own narrow-minded world”.
The mayor says he and his staff traveled to Dubai to bring business back to the city, not to live off pork for a week.
“I don’t know why there’s scrutiny, to be honest,” he said. “It was not a lavish enterprise. We have reduced our expenses. We could have stayed in more expensive hotels. We didn’t rent a suite at the St. Regis and entertain people. We met most people in hotel lobbies. We all flew business class. It was 1pm there and 2pm plus back.
Trantalis and his team arrived in Dubai at 11:30 p.m. and had their first meeting at 7:30 a.m. the following day.
“We had meetings all day,” he said. “When I go on a business trip, we have to make sure we get what we pay for. I said [staff]don’t think of it as a vacation.”
Aside from what people back home might think, the excursion was definitely not a pleasure trip, said Scott Wyman, the mayor’s chief of staff and former government reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Wyman, City Manager Chris Lagerbloom and Fort Lauderdale Director of Economic Development Daphnee Sainvil joined Trantalis as part of the trade mission.
“I’ve been with the mayor on several trips and he’s definitely a workaholic when he travels,” Wyman said. “He expects a lot to have a lot of meetings and a lot of productivity from travel. You’re on the go from morning until late at night every day. When I came back, I needed to go on vacation.
There was no lunch or dinner with the Dubai skyline in the background, although several meetings took place over lunch and dinner, Wyman said.
“But it’s far from a festive holiday,” he said. “It’s working from morning until late at night, meeting people and groups.”
Miramar officials took it for granted to say yes to the county’s invitation to visit Dubai, Messam said.
“I would say the trip was very successful in terms of building a new relationship with the Middle East, a part of the world that has access to 2 billion people within a six hour flight of Dubai” , did he declare.
Messam had this message for critics: “Remember, we just got home. But we know the role we play in trade and business and we spread that message so that we can continue to grow and recruit companies that want to locate here. Miramar was once a hidden gem, but no more. And we are spreading that message in this country and around the world. If you are taking a look at Miramar, we have a house for you. That’s why Miramar left.
On Friday, Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy said the trip to Dubai would eventually pay off.
“I would say all business starts with relationships — and relationships are best built face-to-face,” Levy said. “Reaching out to international businesses is an important component of economic development and I think it is only fitting that the county, along with Fort Lauderdale and Miramar, traveled to Dubai to promote Broward County and our cities for the future. ‘investment.”
Dan Lindblade, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, echoed that sentiment.
“In general, overseas trade missions can be successful for a community or region,” he said. “The city was looking for potential investors for some of our capital improvement projects. The [Elon Musk] tunnels, water treatment facilities, big bills for public-private partnerships.
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And to get the attention of investors halfway around the world, you can’t do it on Zoom, Lindblade said.
“When you have elected rulers and kings, there is a certain protocol in the international world that you have to relate to,” he said. “The international world watches the elected leaders of the United States and holds them in very high esteem. They consider it an honor to see them visit their country. And they roll out the red carpet.
Udine says Broward County sends its mayor on trade missions every year.
“I think we made a lot of good contacts,” he said of the trip to Dubai. “Our port is working with the Port of Dubai to see if we can enter into a twin port agreement. It’s about building relationships. I think there could be investments from sovereign wealth funds in Dubai. They are the gateway to Asia. It was just a way of building bridges.
Udine was not surprised to hear that people back home were upset that taxpayers were footing the bill for overseas travel.
“I understand,” he said. “Critics always have problems with this stuff. But we have to build relationships and that’s how you do it. We are trying to bring businesses in and businesses from Dubai want to come here. They have conferences in Las Vegas but I would much rather go somewhere different that will set us apart. The world is getting smaller.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan