FCBF expanding its reach
Broker/forwarder association looking beyond South Florida
The Florida Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association (FCBF) is trying to better live up to its name.
The association, which has operated almost exclusively in South Florida in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale/Port Everglades markets, is making a concerted effort to reach expand out and add membership in other major trade centers in Florida.
'I had some Customs people give me a hard time about our name,' FCBF president Karma Ruiz recounted. 'They said we ought to be called the Miami brokers and forwarders.'
That was just one note about a concept that has been discussed at times, but is now on the brink of becoming a reality. Ruiz said the idea of bringing the FCBF to other parts of the state came under more serious discussion among FCBF board members about seven months ago, Ruiz said, and over the last three months concrete steps have been taken to get other chapters started. The board was scheduled to vote Tuesday night to amend the association by-laws to create a new structure with regional representation and participation.
Greg Kritz, a board member and the regional vice president in Miami for the international insurance brokerage company Roanoke Trade, has been heading up initial efforts, using his contacts with brokers and forwarders in other parts of the state to gauge interest in the concept.
'The first thing we had to find out after we started talking about it was whether there was a real interest in other parts of the state, and the response has been very enthusiastic,' Kritz said.
There has been a strong response from both the Tampa area and Jacksonville, Kritz said, and there appears to be significant interest from the Orlando area, as well.
Brokers and forwarders in other parts of the state are active in the national association (the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders of America, or NCBFAA), but when it comes to local trade activities, they have been on their own.
The idea is to get local groups started, with the state being divided into Southern, Central, and Northern regions of the FCBF.
The FCBF hopes to offer trade professionals in other areas the same kinds of events and opportunities that have been available in South Florida for years.
There are general membership meetings several months of the year, where speakers or panels will discuss specific issues at luncheon or dinner meetings. The speaker programs include officials from steamship lines, ports, Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies, terminal operating companies, airfreight specialists, insurance and law enforcement professionals, and other industry experts.
The FCBF also organizes more in-depth educational events, at sessions that last a half-day or longer, with industry officials giving detailed instructional presentations about developing topics that affect brokers and forwarders.
The organization has standing committees that tackle various ongoing subjects, and Kritz said existing members are hopeful the members from other parts of the state will be able to make new contributions to the committees.
That includes the FCBF's new Government Affairs Committee, which holds promise for giving the association a more effective voice from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C.
FCBF executive vice president Barbara Pimentel, who manages the FCBF office on a full-time basis, said the association is also offering improved service through offerings like its new, upgraded website.
Through the website, which already provides information on members, committees, events and issues, the association will provide new kinds of information for jobs and careers, as well as links to other useful websites, Pimentel said.
Kritz said FCBF members in other cities will find the committees and other association connections beneficial in dealing with everyday challenges such as making contact with various federal agencies that oversee industry activities.
'Those people now call Customs or Fish and Wildlife on their own,' he observed. 'The FCBF has existing relationships with each of these agencies, and we can help them interact with all of them.'
Kritz added that the FCBF wants to be sure that affiliated groups springing up in other cities feel they are being represented fairly, with adequate concern for the particular issues in each location.
Although the exact makeup of an expanded FCBF is still being formulated, the goal is to allow new cities to have a considerable degree of autonomy, but with strong links to the state organization. There will probably be local boards and committees, but with each area contributing members to the state committees. The central and northern regions will likely be represented at the state level by a regional vice president.
Ruiz said that by expanding the FCBF to other parts of the state, there should be a win-win situation for everyone.
The new locations will gain access to the educational and lobbying benefits of the state association, while at the same time providing insights from their locations on common issues.
In addition, she said, with representatives from places like Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando on board, the state association will have more clout on national issues'especially at the Government Affairs Conference every September in Washington, D.C.
Ruiz said the FCBF intends to take a higher profile at this year's GAC, offering position papers with a Florida spin'including in presentations made directly to members of Congress and their staff'as well as through the traditional face-to-face lobbying efforts.
For that reason, she said, the FCBF hopes to have the by-laws completely amended and representatives on the new location in place by September 1.
'We'll have our work cut out for us,' Ruiz said. 'Greg and Barbie have been doing a great job, and the board is behind it. I hope we can get it done. I think it's way past due.'