City to reach out to Latin America for new investors
The city’s Economic Development Office has set its first trip of the new budget year in hope of attracting investors to Cape Coral.
Audie Lewis, the city’s business recruitment specialist, will travel to Panama City, Panama, to attend Recon 09 Latin America, an international convention, conference and trade expo sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers and scheduled to be held Oct. 26-29.
Twenty-one Latin American countries are expected to participate, and the city plans to attend in hope of making direct contact with investors, perhaps those in the import or export trade, Lewis said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“Capital has dried up locally,” he said. “If we go where the capital is, we have to go outside the area.”
The Latin American economy is expected to see growth in the next year and the city, with its high commercial and office vacancy rate — 22 percent — and high unemployment rate — 13.7 percent — has available space and available workers, Lewis said.
“It’s easy to sell Cape Coral that way,” he said.
Lewis plans to attend select sessions to meet deal makers but plans to skip — and the city is not paying for — any “resort” aspects that may be associated with the trip.
He has, for example, opted out of the informational sessions and will not stay at the Sheraton Panama Hotel, reducing the cost from $3,591 to an estimated $1,858, according to city spokesperson Connie Barron.
“He wants to get into the deal-making sessions, not the breakout meetings,” she said.
The Lee County Development Office will not be sending a representative to the conference.
“We will not,” said Jennifer Berg, spokesperson for the Lee County Economic Development Office. “We are focused on companies that provide high skill, high wage jobs; that is our mission.”
This is not a comment on other agencies, which may have a different mission, she added.
The county does not have any plans for international travel this year.
“We do not currently have international travel (in the budget),” Berg said. “That’s not to say it’s not something we haven’t done in the past or something we won’t consider in the future but based on limited resources, it’s not in our plans at this time.”
Lewis is the only public sector representative from the United States currently scheduled to attend the convention, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
“You are the only one,” said Jorge Lizan, director of business development for ICSC Latin America. “Twenty-five percent of the registration is from the U.S. and only one from the public sector so far.”
The bulk of the attendees from the United States are developers, owners, retailers, brokers, service providers and investors, according to Lizan. Walgreens, The Gap, Subway and McDonald’s are among those registered to attend.
“Ninety percent are interested in investing in Latin America,” he said. “They are coming from all over.”
In addition to the 21 countries expected to participate, 30-plus exhibitors are registered so far, Lizan said.
The city’s economic development budget for 2010 is proposed at $504,427. That is down from $700,171 in 2009 and $1,229,110 in 2008.
Travel numbers were not available late Wednesday.