Interview with Charlotte Gallogly, President of the World Trade Center in Miami

She is a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur who has directed a number of private sector investments in the real-estate area, from the development of mall shopping centres to mid-sized office buildings. As if this were not enough, she also founded the U.S. Latin Trade Magazine, and she is the President of World Trade Center Miami. She has played an important role in developing Miami as a trade hub for the Americas.
She founded and directs the management of Miami’s oldest and largest trade association, which involves the delivery of products and services to over 1,000 World Trade Center member corporations and over 2,000 international executives. Today, the World Trade Center in Miami has become one of the city’s major economic players, thanks to the efforts of Ms Gallogly and “her team” –– as she would put it.
Despite her long list of business merits, Ms Gallogly is a very open and friendly person who is a dedicated supporter of the idea that trade brings prosperity and peace to people “I have seen it and it works!” “I joined in the World Trade Center Association in 1975 and for the first time I really had brothers and sisters around the world, and that is really great!” She is always trying to assist others, and this is one of the reasons why she has, for the last four years, been trying to help “the brothers and sisters in Haiti” to improve the living conditions for the people in that country.
Q: Are you going to do something in Haiti?
The World Trade Center in Miami decided that we wanted to do something to help our sisters and brothers in Haiti. So for the last past four years, I have been going back and forth trying to find support for this project. However, the answer is always the same: “We are not going to invest our dollars there when the country is in total chaos, when they keep on killing people and the government keeps on changing …” In other words, the investors will not come forward when the market place is unstable. I think that what the World Trade Center in Kabul really demonstrates is that peace and trade is the vehicle. I’m trying to do the same thing with Haiti. (Editorial note See our interview with Mr Aziz Sadat).
I’m not interested in buildings or big structures, but rather to work with entrepreneurs and to train new ones. Many Haitians live around the world, and the diaspora is huge. We would like to create an environment in which they can come back and build the economic infrastructure of their country.
I would not be able to do so without the World Trade Center Association (WTCA). I can draw on the resources of this network, of the people. Let me give you an example. If I need investors, if I need people, service experts –– they are available. It’s really something great!
Q: How did it all start –– the World Trade Center in Miami, your involvement?
I was the Director of Economic Development for the city of Miami. Our job was to add new jobs to the local economy, to bring new businesses to Miami and to improve the business district. One day the City Manager fired the person responsible for international trade and I found myself in charge. During the process, I tried to learn. I had heard about the World Trade Centers Association in New York, but I had no idea what it did. At that time in Miami, all our exports had been driven south. When the market goes to hell, we go to hell too. So the idea of the World Trade Centers Association appealed to me as it would give us a global network allowing us to diversify our own network.
Traditionally, we have always looked towards the South, but we could do more in Asia, more in Europe. What the world trade centres do is to put you on the global map. We put Miami on the map.
For a long time now, we have developed trade relationships with different parts of the world, trying to diversify our economy. The idea is that when we have an economic downturn, it should not disrupt the whole business infrastructure.
In Europe you have thousands of years of history behind you. However, Miami is a young city and did not take off until the 1950s. Before then, it was a mosquito-infested swamp. When the Korean War ended some of the guys who had been through the war settled in Miami. It was at the time that the GI bill was adopted and air-conditioning became popular. People started to move there. As the city is strategically located between North and South America, the port activities started to develop, diversifying the economy and expanding trade. One of the most important elements was to promote Miami as a trade and logistics hub for the Americas. Some 33% or more of all the cargo going to Latin America and about 70% of that going to the Caribbean passes through Miami, so if you are doing business in these markets you have to come here.
Q: Miami is very well known for its beaches, the sun, etc.
Most people do not know about Miami. For instance, when I moved there in 1972 it was starting to take off. In those days I used to see old people in their rocking chairs sitting along Miami beach. Today, this no longer exists. They have been replaced with chic boutiques and apartment buildings. It has become the modelling capital of the world, the fashion capital for the Americas, the art bazaar –– it has got the biggest show in this market. It has been remarkable to see an American city take off like that in twenty-six years.
We cannot compare Miami to Philadelphia with its 250-year history, or to Boston or to New York. In the matter of trade, we came into the game late. In the 1950s when air-conditioning became available and GIs started moving to Miami, it was about the same time that Castro threw out a lot of Cuban families. All of a sudden people who spoke Spanish came to this new place, and with them came what I would call “an island mentality”: you have to trade because you do not grow anything here; you have to import a lot of stuff to survive. So we had an island community or trading community speaking Spanish and that is what set Miami going.
Today, you could say that Miami is truly an international city. We now have about 150 nationalities, lots of multinationals and with lots of international businesses, so if you want to trade or do business with Latin America, all the exporters are here.
Q: Could you tell us some more about the World Trade Center in Miami?
We initially did what World Trade Centres are supposed to do, but in 1989 we decided that the best thing was to focus on buying and selling. We became involved with the trade-show business where we put qualified buyers together with qualified manufacturers. For the last ten years what we have done is to develop those trade shows. We generate $3.8 billion through trade shows. We have had a huge economic impact. We are not doing a lot of different things for a lot of different people–– we focus on trade shows and trade advocacy.
Q: It seems like you are a big family in the WTCA?
Yes, we all know each other. We have friends all over the world. So if a trader wants to sell something in Jordan, I know somebody there and he will answer my phone call. One of the big problems in the US (if you think of Miami as being part of the US), people do not call you back because they have a million phone calls coming in the whole time. If I call Nigeria, for example, you can talk to somebody and that’s the value of a global network.
Here is a good example. A Malaysian woman living in Miami wanted to import little horsepower tractors for sale to small farms in Latin America. So her question to me was: where do they make small tractors? I looked at all the world trade centres. We found ninety-eight manufacturers who make these machines and she met with five companies. China got the command. Part of my time is spent trying to help people make deals.
Another example is an outstanding young former model who is now showing Latin American designers how to be successful on the US market place. We are trying to develop some new trade shows, such as fashion shows.
We celebrate International Women’s Day. In the US most people do not have a clue what it’s all about. What we are trying to do is to build a major event –– the next one will be in 2009 –– on world peace, economic development and things like that. We have a lot of interesting initiatives going on.
We run a sea-cargo show, an air-cargo show, and we are trying to look ahead to see what is going to be the growth industry in the next five- to ten-year period. Then we try to develop a trade that corresponds to the new products allowing people to make more sales, helping importers and exporters to make more money. That is our focus: developing Miami as a trade hub for the Americas.
Q: Does the Trade Center belong to the city of Miami?
It is a non-profit board of Directors, so, in other words, it belongs to the community. We have a unit called World Trade Centers Miami Inc.
Q: You seem to be very committed to what you do.
To have a great life you have to have a passion. Many people have a passion about their work –– I do.
How many Americans have a passport? –– 15 to 20%. How can they understand international trade? You are absorbed every day with your own business, your family, your children, etc.
Most people will tell you that Miami’s main industry is tourism, but it’s not –– it’s trade. Few people see it that way because trade is not tangible. They see the port and the airport, but they do not understand that the ships and planes are carrying cargo. We are paving the way in many ways.
Q: What are your new plans?
We would like to have an annual global event focused on a women’s conference. It would be open to anyone, but it’s really focused on how we are going to improve the status of women in the Americas.
Another thing we are working on is setting up an Asian Information Centre. We requested a grant to make people think about Asia and the opportunities there. The problem with grants in the United States is that they will give you the money for one year, and after that we must raise the money ourselves. If you are a community and you want to invest in a world trade centre, you need capital to stand behind it. It is not a one-time shot and you may have to wait perhaps five years before it starts to generate money. In the US people do not understand how important international trade is.