GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Coast business leaders are looking to forge a new partnership with a country that has been off limits for more than five decades. They want to see the coast and the state start doing business with Cuba, in light of the recently normalized relations between the U.S. and that country. An advocacy group called Engage Cuba is leading the charge.
Officials with Engage Cuba say Mississippi and Cuba are a natural fit. James Williams is the president of the organization.
"Cuba needs infrastructure. It needs manufacturing. It needs a new hospitality sector. It needs everything that Mississippi and the American economy can provide. At the same time, it brings us jobs here, and it also supports a better life for the people who live in Cuba," Williams explained.
The Port of Gulfport could play a major role in any trade deals, according to Port Director Jonathan Daniels.
"They want to do business with America. They need to do business with America. The materials that they need down there, basically to rebuild the infrastructure, they need to be able to get out of the American economy. We're looking forward to being able to participate in any way we can," Daniels said.
Mississippi has what Cuba needs. That's the opinion of local business leader Dave Dennis.
"Cuba is importing 80 percent of all of its food, and the four main staples that they have, that they want to secure, are things that Mississippi has. We've got port facilities. It's a unique opportunity. The times are changing, and you have to adapt to them, or we're going to miss the boat on it," Dennis implored.
Both the state and Cuba could benefit from a trade relationship. Ashley Edwards is the President of the Gulf Coast Business Council.
"If ultimately we can promote economic freedom in Cuba, and at the same time benefit Mississippi farmers and businesses, then it seems like a win-win for both Cuba and Mississippi," Edwards said.
Despite the loosening of ties between Cuba and the United States, there is a contingent of people in this country that say we should not be dealing with a communist country. Well, the folks involved with Engage Cuba have an answer for that, according to Williams.
"This is not a rubber stamp validation that we love what Cuba is doing. This is an idea that we believe in the power of ourselves. We believe that we create change wherever we go," said Williams.
They also believe that change can't some soon enough.
Engage Cuba is based in Washington, D.C. but is forming trade organizations in each state. After visiting Mississippi Wednesday, the group is headed to Alabama.