Recently dubbed “America’s Logistics Center,” Jacksonville is an increasingly important place for international commerce and the global arena. Enhancing Jacksonville’s growing international reputation for business and spreading that reputation amongst political leaders from around the world is a local nonprofit group, GlobalJax. What started as the International Visitor Corps of Jacksonville, GlobalJax is a modern-day welcome wagon for foreign business, political and cultural visitors to the First Coast, and it’s open for anyone to join as a member.
While Jacksonville does not have the same level of international fame as its Southern neighbor, Miami, it is often a pleasant surprise for many international visitors who leave impressed by how welcomed they were and how much Jacksonville has to offer. “They always say they want to go to Miami, L.A., New York, and then they come here and they meet with our professionals in the city, they have dinner in homes, and then they love Jacksonville,” explains Andrea Hartley, incoming executive director of GlobalJax. “They love the weather. They had no idea how many people lived here who spoke their language. They were welcomed and shown a good time. We take them to see the sights, and when they leave, they go home and tell everyone that Jacksonville is where they need to visit when they come to the United States.“
Their mission began as the local agency for the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership professional exchange program, which brings selected emerging leaders from around the world to tour and learn more about the United States. When these groups want to tour Northeast Florida, GlobalJax is the local agency that helps facilitate the visits. Members of GlobalJax help with these visits by hosting guests and creating relationships to broaden perspectives on the United States. “We’re not employees of the State Department, we’re a nonprofit. We raise most of our support locally in the community,” says Hartley. “We do that so when they send their visitors here, we don’t speak for the government; we are private citizens. It’s a grassroots diplomacy effort, citizen to citizen diplomacy.”
Besides hosting visitors, GlobalJax works to educate and promote international awareness within the Jacksonville community. This is done by helping internationally focused professionals network with each other, providing educational programs for area students, and promoting culturally diverse programming within Jacksonville. One of their most successful educational outreach initiatives is the Going Global Student Summit, which connects high school students with prominent international business leaders. Such summits prepare Jacksonville youth to be internationally aware and equipped for the increasingly globalized economy.
One of the most exciting benefits of being a GlobalJax member is automatic membership in Friendship Force International, which offers unique vacation packages to many locations worldwide. The Friendship Force is like the International Visitor Corps in that it pairs visitors with local hosts to connect strangers and promote cross-cultural understanding. Examples of upcoming trips include “Dance the Tango! Learn and explore with new friends in Brazil and Argentina,” or “Attend a Wedding, Explore the Desert, and Build Friendships in Morocco.”
If you are interested in getting to know GlobalJax, a great way to see the organization is at the upcoming Wines of the World event on September 28 at the Jacksonville Public Library’s Main Branch on the Rooftop Terrace. Six area restaurants will present appetizers that will be expertly paired with wines from the major wine regions in the world: Spain, Italy, France, Australia, South America and the United States.