The French Connection

The number of French companies in Miami and Florida continues to grow, as does trade

The number of French companies in Miami and Florida continues to grow, as does trade

By Yousra Benkirane

When Déborah Wanza, a French native, came to the United States for her international business education at Georgetown University, she discovered a misalignment between her personal values and what she was learning in school. “I realized there was a power paradox we live in, where people will spend their money on a company that doesn’t share their same ethics,” says Wanza. Her frustration increased when she tried to shop online from small businesses but found that search engines steered her to large chains that went against her personal ethics – like greenwashing, child labor, or any unsustainable practices. In France, however, it wasn’t difficult to find small businesses she could support. “In the United States, I searched for the equivalent of the applications I used to use in France (Yuka, BlaBlaCar, etc.). I couldn’t find sites that matched my searches. That’s when the idea of creating a search platform to help people find organizations that meet their needs came to me,” says Wanza.

So last year, after returning to France, Wanza founded Phloxe, a search engine that recommends products and brands based on their impact on the environment, society, and the economy. After learning how to code, she teamed up with others who shared her vision. These included colleague Victoria Aisha, who was based in Miami. Through Aisha, she was connected to organizations like FrenchTechMiami and the Miami Beacon Council.

The strong French community and local support for tech companies eventually inspired Wanza to relocate her startup to Miami, which she did earlier this year. “They gave us their networks and helped us build the search engine,” she says of FrenchTech and the Beacon. Now, Wanza is working with FrenchTechMiami to integrate AI into their search engine; the Minister for Digital Transition and Telecommunications of France is also helping Wanza develop her platform in Miami by providing resources and connections.

Miami is no stranger to the presence of French companies – especially those in technology (like cleantech and fintech), aerospace and aviation, and transportation and logistics. “France is in the top four foreign employers in Florida, with more than 400 French companies based here and 32,000 jobs created by French companies,” says the Consul General of France in Miami, Raphaël Trapp. With French companies operating in Miami for the past 35 years, ties between the city and the European nation evolved through burgeoning trade. “The origin of the presence of the consulate in Miami was economical,” says Trapp, though tourism would follow. In 2022, 175,000 French tourists visited Florida – a 290 percent increase from the previous year – accounting for seven percent of total European visitors to Florida. 

As for trade, the numbers reflect a robust and growing relationship between France and the Miami Customs District. Last year, total trade between Miami and France reached $3.451 billion, a 22 percent increase from the year before. While the growth in last year’s numbers does show a rebound from 2021, depressed by the pandemic, they are still eight percent higher than 2020, a record year in Miami-France trade. And figures for the first eight months of this year are strong. Through August, exports totaled $358 million while imports totaled $1.7 billion. Top imports included perfumes ($296M), gas turbines ($268M), and aircraft ($170M). Top exports included aircraft parts ($99.1M), paintings ($27.7M), and orthopedic appliances ($18.7M). The high value of imports compared to exports reflects how companies based in France are shipping parts and products to their Florida locations, especially within the aviation industry. “French companies in aeronautics and aviation are developing at a very good pace,” says the consul general. 

French aviation and aerospace companies can be found throughout Florida, especially near the Space Coast. For example, French aircraft manufacturer and supplier Daher expanded its industrial presence in Stuart, Florida (40 miles north of West Palm Beach) earlier this year. The move created an additional aerostructures assembly facility, making Florida Daher’s second-largest location after France. This increased the company’s capabilities as a supplier to North American aerospace customers, including Boeing and Gulfstream (both with operations in Florida). Imports of completed French aircraft (think Airbus) to the Miami Customs District also increased, accounting for 43 percent of its total imports of these products (followed by Brazil at 36.9 percent.)

For French global conglomerate Bolloré Logistics, the aviation industry is among their largest customers. “We have been heavily centric on aviation and aerospace for the last 30-plus years,” says Marc Sawaya, CEO of Bolloré USA. “Miami became a very strategic hub in demand. We partnered with a few key clients, and we [now] have a 200,000-square-foot facility in Miami that we’ve converted into a free trade zone, serving as the Latin American gateway [and] expansion for specific aerospace clients.”

Bolloré’s Miami branch includes about 140 employees, from freight operators to distribution, with annual global revenue of around $7.5 million. Other than the aviation and aerospace industries, the supply chain management company serves sectors in luxury and cosmetics, oil and gas, travel and retail, and government and defense. “Also, we’re investing in growing in Latin America, which coincides with what we’re trying to do in Miami,” says Sawaya. “We’re adding more solutions for people in the Miami area to work with our counterparts in Latin America, investing in sales [as well as] having that multilingual connection between the Spanish community and the American community.”

With Bolloré’s free trade zone, clients in Miami who are serving Latin America can import, warehouse, manage, and export without taxes or middlemen, cutting time and cost. “In some cases, we’ve set up distribution for customers based out of Miami because you’re able to hit various areas of the U.S. as well. There are a lot of advantages when it comes to having everything in a single hub, especially for clients that do have a big demand in Latin America,” says Sawaya.

Another French logistics company, Clasquin, is also taking advantage of Miami’s strategic location as the gateway to the U.S. and Latin America. “In Miami, the one that’s growing the fastest is the aerospace vertical, [thanks to] a strong European excellence that allows us to really be active in aerospace,” says Emmanuel Desbats, national sales manager of Clasquin USA.

“We have parts coming from the U.S. to Europe and vice versa. But we see that more and more [aircraft] repair stations have been built in Latin America, and we are shipping down there. This is a new thing that we are taking advantage of in our Latin America networks.”

Desbats explains how the U.S. has been the fastest-growing market for his company since 2015, with its primary focus on connecting the U.S. to Europe. With 85 locations worldwide, the Miami base is looking to expand the markets Clasquin serves. “We have had an east-west configuration for most of the time in Miami, but now people are trying to trade with Latin America,” says Desbats. Because of the demand, the global freight forwarder is looking to more than double its operations in Miami within the next five years, recently adding a satellite office in Chile. “Another thing that’s a little bit unusual for Clasquin is Africa. Miami is right in front of Africa. In Miami, very few people are considering the region. We believe that Miami has a unique positioning for Africa because we speak French, Portuguese, and English, just like everywhere in Africa,” says Desbats. “Everybody just looks at Miami for Latin America. But Miami is much more than the Americas.” 

Clasquin serves sectors such as technology, cosmetics, and luxury, but also art. “I would say that’s part of the French heritage,” says Desbats. “Moving art pieces from Miami to Paris or New York to Hong Kong is a very strong sector for us.” Works of art are, in fact, the second-largest export from Miami to France. 

The presence of French tech companies is another major contributor to the French Miami economic relationship. In Miami alone, there are about 100 French startups. Take FINNT, for example, a banking platform that helps international families and immigrants send, receive, and save money. 

FINNT was founded in 2021 by French natives Anji Ismail and Faouzi Yagoubi, who split their time between Miami and France; the company’s engineering team remains based in France while the company’s main operations and CEO are in Miami. “For right now, we’re really targeting U.S. students, but specifically students who are moving into the U.S. who want to receive money from their parents abroad, who might not have a social security number when they move and need banking services that are built for them,” explains Ismail. According to the CEO, there are about 2.5 million international students in the U.S., and they receive an average of $20,000 per year from their families abroad. “So, we’re trying to capture that market.” So far, the fintech platform has raised $3.5 million from investors, some based in Miami. 

FINNT’s founders are also members of FrenchTechMiami, an initiative aimed
at promoting and supporting growth in the French technology and startup ecosystem
in the Miami area. It’s part of the broader “French Tech” movement, a global push for French technology entrepreneurs and startups. Founded in March 2020, the Miami chapter brings together over 120 entrepreneurs, from startups to publicly traded companies. The community works closely with local French organizations like the French Consulate in Miami and the French American Chamber of Commerce to host networking events and facilitate expansion into U.S. markets. 

The president of FrenchTechMiami, Stan Coignard, is a French native who has worked in Miami for 15 years and compares the Magic City to his native Marseilles, with its location as a gateway between North Africa and Europe; Marseilles was also recognized as one of the most innovative cities in Europe last year. The parallel, he says, is between trade and innovation. “The people of Miami really helped in the way they put Miami on the map. They said, ‘Okay you want to find the proper entrepreneurship hub for the Americas? It has to happen in Miami,’” says Coignard. 

The French community in Miami, from tourists to importers of cosmetics to exporters of aircraft parts, will continue to grow as the city further develops into an international business hub. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2021 more than 26,000 France-born residents live in Florida, with an estimated 103,000 Floridians speaking French at home thanks to the presence of expatriates from Quebec and Haiti. “France is known for having various efficient and innovative companies that are already operating in Miami and are eager to expand their activity here. Miami’s growth regarding tech in the U.S. and for the Americas is very important for French companies because they can get to another market but also can get some money to scale up,” says Consul General Trapp. 

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