The American view of the Asia-Pacific often focuses on looking west, with states like California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawai‘i taken to be the leading states in US engagement with the region. In spite of being on the East Coast, and geographically more distant from Asia, Florida has nonetheless become an important state in the US-India relationship.
The city of Tampa recently hosted the annual International Indian Film Academy’s annual awards ceremony. Unlike the Oscars, which are always awarded in Los Angeles, the IIFA ceremony has been held in cities around the world in recent years, including London, Singapore, and Macau. This is the first time the event was held in the US, however. Why, then, did Tampa pop up on the list of potential host cities for the Indian film industry’s biggest event of the year? Tampa itself does not have a particularly large Indian diaspora community, though at just over 3,300 people, they are the largest Asian American cohort in Florida’s 14th Congressional District. However, Florida ranks sixth in the nation for the number of Indian Americans that call the state home. With a total population of over 150,000 people, the Indian American community is the state’s largest Asian-American cohort, representing over 25% of Florida’s total Asian American population.
Demographics are not the only thing at play, though. Before it put itself forward as possible venue for the awards, Tampa was already aware of the value of trade with India to its local economy. The Port of Tampa exported nearly $2.5 billion worth of goods in 2010, of which exports to India alone accounted for almost $950 million, making India the most valuable export destination by a large margin. Brazil, the next largest destination for Tampa’s exports, only accounted for $266 million. According to the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce, chemicals represent the largest share of Tampa’s exports to India, much of which are phosphates to be used in fertilizer production, among other things.
Between its substantial trade earnings and the tourism influx surrounding the four days of festivities during the Indian Film Awards, Tampa’s economic ties to India are substantial. This fact has not been lost on the rest of Florida, as the Miami-based India-US Chamber of Commerce of South Florida has also been making efforts to promote trade and investment in India. The Chamber is hosting frequent panels and seminars on the topic of doing business in India. As Tampa’s successes are emulated across Florida, India’s importance to the state is likely to keep growing.