San Francisco looks to boost economic interests in Latin America 

San Francisco is expected to spend $100,000 to attract investment from Latin America and build a line of export for locally made products under a plan that's part of Mayor Ed Lee's proposed budget.

Building on efforts within the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, which is the mayor's arm for stimulating local economic activity, The City hopes to benefit from one of the healthiest and fastest-growing global markets.

"Latin America is an incredible market opportunity for San Francisco, with more than 15 percent of The City's population being of Latin descent and the incredible GDP growth we are looking at in Latin America, principally in Brazil, Mexico, as well as Argentina and Chile," said Todd Rufo, director of the office.

The effort is modeled after ChinaSF, a 2008 public-private initiative between the San Francisco Center for Economic Development and The City.

"We've seen more than 20 companies in the last five years move to San Francisco because of that initiative," Rufo said. "It will total about 300 jobs created at the end of this year."

The City also hopes to boost local manufacturing businesses by facilitating the export of goods to more foreign markets. Local San Francisco goods being exported to China include Timbukt2 messenger bags, TCHO Chocolate products and wine from Bluxome Street Winery.

Lee's budget also includes a similar effort for Asian countries such as the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and India.

Under the proposal, the department would hire one person to manage the effort. In addition to the salary, The City would fund nonprofit groups to provide the services, with $100,000 for the Latin American countries and $100,000 for the Asian effort.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development, which has a proposed budget of $42.3 million next fiscal year, plays an important role in showcasing economic initiatives by Lee, who has made economic improvement a focus of his administration — particularly in tech.

In addition to working to draw investment from foreign countries, the department also is expanding loan programs for small businesses and working to overhaul The City's business permitting process to allow for online applications and payments — a seemingly tall order given that 203 permits are required from 16 different city departments.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, which began reviewing the $7.9 billion city budget proposal Monday, gave initial approval to the Latin America proposal.

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