"We have 400 thousand Brits who live in Florida" says David Prodger, who was appointed the British Consul General to the state in 2014, and is the senior UK official in the Consulate General, which is a subordinate office to the Embassy and is located in Miami. He is traveling the state talking about the special relationship between the UK and the Sunshine State, including here in the panhandle.
"Firstly because we have lots of British military in the area. We have a trainer who is at Corry Station. And I'm going down to Eglin this afternoon to see a team down there, so that part of the relationship is absolutely critical and Florida looms large in our security partnership. Secondly it's looking at business opportunities. So there's a lot going on up here in northwest Florida. Some fantastic opportunities around cyber, aerospace, advanced engineering, manufacturing, so we are always looking to where we can make those partnerships whether it's on a business basis or on a research, collaboration basis. And thirdly it's the politics. We're coming up on the mid-terms. This is an interesting part of the state, very different to where I'm based down in southeast Florida. So, it's just getting a feel for how things look on that side."
Pensacola of course is known as the City of Five Flags, and for 18 years it was the flag of England that flew over the city. "Even though it was a relatively short period of time, the (British) influence went of much later and much earlier than that. So, we're proud of those (historical) links."
As the UK’s Consul general in the state, Prodger has an important role to play in relations between Florida and British citizens living, working and visiting here. "I have many roles. I run a sort of a branch office of the embassy really. So, obviously we have a consular responsibility to Brits here, so if they get into trouble or get injured then we will help them. That's our primary role in terms of the British population here." Prodger says another big part of his job is helping to grow the economy and create jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. "That's helping British companies export to Florida or invest in Florida where we have a great partnership with Enterprise Floridaand the local Enterprise agencies througout the state. Or, encouraging Florida companies to invesgt in the UK economy."
During his visit to the area, Prodger was impressed with a tour of the robotics lab at IHMC. "That's a very good example of areas where we're looking to make those collaborations, because robotics, autonomous vehicles, oceans are all priority areas for us in terms of our own future economy."
One of the issues facing the UK is the implementation of Brexit over the next few years. Prodger says he doesn’t see his mission changing in a post-Brexit world. "In many ways I think we see Brexit as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to reestablish the UK as a global trader. We always have been. It has in many ways defined who we are in terms of our commercial activity. And being outside the EU will give us the scope to actually make those deals with the partners we want." Prodger says when he talks to big businesses in Florida about Brexit it is almost universally positive. "Brexit is a risk, and big business will factor it in as a risk. But it's only one of many, and it's certainly not the biggest one on top of the list."
And there is one more taste of the panhandle Prodger has on his list before he heads back to Miami to the Consulate general in Miami. He hopes to take in a Blue Wahoos game this week