Florida provides a route to Latin Ameria and Caribbean expansion

Fort Lauderdale serves as jumping off point

Lucrative markets beckon U.S. companies

Photo captions: PHOTO CUTLINE #1

The City of Fort Lauderdale's economy has grown into a sophisticated mix of multinational companies capitalizing on the community's proximity to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Photo credit to Mindy Duncan.

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Fort Lauderdale is served by the City-owned and operated Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Photo credit to Mindy Duncan.

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Port Everglades moves more than 4 million tons of containerized cargo a year through its two primary container terminals at Midport and Southport. Photo credit J.E. Clark.

By Kathleen Dough

Trade between the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean climbed 50 percent during the first half of the 1990's. The unprecedented growth shows no signs of slowing down. Lucrative markets in South America, Central America and the Caribbean continue to devour U.S.-made commodities to the tune of almost $50 billion per year and Florida has emerged as the leader in U.S. trade with the region, maintaining close to a 50% market share across all segments. No where is Florida's trend toward an international marketplace more evident than in Fort Lauderdale, where an economy once primarily based in agriculture and tourism has grown into a sophisticated mix of multinational companies and activities.

South Florida exports to Latin America and the Caribbean continues to experience double-digit growth, reaching an estimated $42 billion in 1996. Trade volume for imports and exports with South Florida's top five trading partners, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Argentina, now exceeds $7.1 billion.

"Today's business leaders consider South America, Latin America and the Caribbean as some of world's premier emerging marketplaces," said Scott Adams, Director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Fort Lauderdale. "As their economies continue to develop, the demand is moving from low-tech to high-tech, and from raw materials to finished goods. Fort Lauderdale provides easy access to these markets and, as companies realize this, they will continue to locate regional operations here."

Among the companies capitalizing on Fort Lauderdale's proximity to South America is Dana Corporation, one of the world's largest independent suppliers of vehicular components to vehicular, off-highway and industrial markets with $7.7 billion in sales during 1996. Headquartered in Toledo, OH, the auto parts giant chose a downtown Fort Lauderdale location as the control center for its South American operations which employ approximately 9,000 people in 40 facilities from Argentina to Venezuela.

Identifying auto parts and services equipment as one of the top export opportunities to the Western Hemisphere in 1997, trade experts at the Florida Trade Data Center can well understand why Dana would choose to locate its South American operations in Fort Lauderdale. Other products listed as top commodities for export by the Trade Data Center include telecommunications equipment, computers and peripherals, medical equipment, computer software, aircraft parts and services equipment and franchising services.

Businesses seeking to relocate to Fort Lauderdale will also find it's an excellent location for manufacture and export to overseas markets.

"Port Everglades Foreign Trade Zone #25 was the first trade zone in Florida," said David Miller, Director of Corporate Communication for Port Everglades. "Strategically located for the Caribbean and Latin America, businesses in the foreign trade zone are able to defer Customs duties and federal excise taxes, enhancing their position in the international market."

With 82 acres devoted to foreign trade just south of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the Port's Foreign Trade zone serves as a model worldwide.

"Fort Lauderdale is also drawing a number of regional offices to provide services to foreign markets," said Michael Frey, Economic Development Manager for the City of Fort Lauderdale. "There's growth in almost all sectors."

With increasing amounts of disposable income available in Latin America, South America and the Caribbean, one of those sectors is the entertainment industry.

Galaxy Latin America (GLA), a Fort Lauderdale-based provider of DIRECTV digital video, audio and programming services, estimates that there are more than 75 million households in its targeted regions of Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. More than 30 million of those households are considered to be potential customers.

Galaxy was also drawn to Fort Lauderdale because of the community's proximity to foreign markets. The multinational partnership recently opened a 150-employee management operations center in the City's Uptown Business District.

GLA is a multinational partnership. DIRECTTV International, Inc. (DTVI) of El Segundo, CA holds majority interest. DTVI is responsible for operating the systems satellites and primary uplink facility. Three Latin American partners control the local distribution networks.

"Companies are quickly realizing the advantages of a location here. In today's competitive environment, companies need to be able to move people and products rapidly and reliably," said Frey. " What's remarkable about Fort Lauderdale is that every mode of transportation is available. Within a three mile radius from downtown, businesses have access to an international deepwater port, an upgraded interstate highway system, an international airport, an executive jet center and a railway system."

Employees of Dana and Galaxy Latin America don't have a shortage of amusements in their off duty hours as they join their counterparts from companies like Microsoft, Citicorp, Ford Motor and Motorola in enjoying the myriad of entertainment options in the area. Fort Lauderdale is a haven for outdoor sports, water activities, nightlife and cultural opportunities.

Ranked as one of the top 15 "Best Places to Live" by Money Magazine for the last three years, Fort Lauderdale's exciting mix of cosmopolitan energy and laid-back tropical attitude also serves as home base for top-notch companies like Alamo Rent A Car, Autonation, Extended Stay America and South African Airways.

Companies experiencing growth will have no trouble finding qualified candidates in Fort Lauderdale. The Fort Lauderdale Metropolitan Statistical Area provides companies with a pool of almost 723,000 employees, more than 62 percent of which are employed in white collar fields.

"Services and trade account for more than 60 percent of the jobs in the Fort Lauderdale area," said Adams. "We fully expect the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to further boost the trade numbers. Active tourism and healthcare industries will provide further growth."

One of the companies benefiting from Fort Lauderdale's location in the heart of South Florida's 4.5 million population and booming healthcare industry is Columbia/HCA, the nations largest healthcare provider, who recently relocated their Florida regional operations from Dade County, FL to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Lured to Fort Lauderdale by the visibility of the location, reasonable market rental rates and economic incentives, Columbia/HCA is expected to expand their operations by 100 employees by the year 2000.

"Several of the recent relocations have taken advantage of our Qualified Targeted Industry Tax Incentives when moving to Fort Lauderdale," said Frey.

Qualified Target Industry Tax incentives provides new or expanding businesses with up to $5,000 per new job created --- $7,500 per job if the company locates in the City's Enterprise Zone. To qualify, a company must meet specific qualifications as a "targeted industry", create a minimum of 100 new jobs and pay an average wage of at least 115 percent of the local average. Minority-owned businesses may qualify with a minimum of 25 new jobs. The incentive is in the form of refunds of certain state and local taxes paid over a four-year period.

Companies are also taking note of Fort Lauderdale's pro-business government policies. With no state or personal income tax, no inventory tax, no state ad valorem tax and a corporate income tax rate of just 5.5%, Fort Lauderdale provides companies with a sound, bottom line reason to relocate here.

For more information on Economic Development opportunities in the City of Fort Lauderdale, FL please call (800) 741-2489 or E-mail; webmaster@info.ci.ftlaud.fl.us.

Kathleen Dough is a veteran reporter covering business and economic development issues in South Florida as the editor of several area newsletters including Economic Development Update and Forward. She is currently employed by the City of Fort Lauderdale's Planning and Economic Development Department.

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