Mexico the newest user of Miami's Latin America gateway
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Serving as a business gateway to Latin America continues to be Greater Miami's strong suit, but other regions expanding via Miami-Dade and larger-scale investments are growing trends, market observers say.
One country breaking into the US and Latin America through Miami much more than in the past is Mexico, said Jorge Espinosa, founding partner of intellectual property law firm Espinosa | Trueba.
In the intellectual property realm, "South Florida is kind of like Holland in the 1700s in Europe," Mr. Espinosa said. "It doesn't really produce a lot. But what it does do is serve as a clearing house."
Mr. Espinosa said his international intellectual property practice includes protecting trademarks of Latin American businesses expanding to the US and registering US patents for South American inventions.
South Florida is particularly enticing to Latin American businesses looking to expand because of its superior transportation linkages, he said, allowing entry to European and American markets.
"By coming to South Florida," Mr. Espinosa said, "they've now broadened the scope of what [markets] they can service from a single location."
Miami has long been an enticing gateway for Latin American businesses, he said, but a new development in the past year-and-a-half has been a growing number of Mexican businesses branching into the US through Miami.
"We've never seen anything significant from Mexico," he said, adding that Mexico had typically sent US business to Houston and Los Angeles.
However, he said, in the past year-and-a-half he has seen a significant upsurge in Mexican business.
Mr. Espinosa said he has helped Mexico-based Cool-de-sac, a children's recreation center and restaurant chain, and telecommunications company Multiphone expand to the US.
By establishing trademarks and branding in the US, he said, these companies can both reach a new market in the US and appeal to foreign nationals that recognize their products.
Latin American business use of Miami as a gateway is "almost a cliché," but its scope is broadening, said Daniel Diaz Leyva, a partner with law firm Infante Zumpano.
"We've just seen so much more traffic in South Florida when it comes to transactions that are internationally based and involve Latin America," Mr. Diaz Leyva said.
"Whereas a few years ago investors had a condo or two, a home or a few loans in South Florida, today it's actual operations," he said. "They're looking to establish an office, start or acquire a bank, distribute goods, import or export chemicals."
Changes in currency valuations are also playing a role, allowing for the pickup in area real estate sales, said Infante Zumpano co-founder Carlos Zumpano.
The time is also right for foreign investors to launch bigger plans in the US, said Alberto Muñoz, CEO of Espacio USA.
Espacio is the American arm of Spanish developer Inmobiliaria Espacio. Espacio holds two Omni-area properties: an office building at 1400 Biscayne Blvd. and an adjacent mixed-used building at 253 NE 14th St.
The firm is focused on leasing, Mr. Muñoz said, raising 1400 Biscayne's occupancy from 12% to the 75%-to-85% range and is developing a two-phase master plan to construct a mixed-use project.
Work is to start in September 2012, he said.
Espacio first delved into the US market in 2007, purchasing a residential-condominium property in Clearwater.
Mr. Muñoz said Espacio was looking "for a more secure market" to learn how to do business in the US before giving Miami a try.
"When we came to Miami, we saw a lot of skyscrapers," Mr. Muñoz said. "We got scared seeing there are many units… [and] a lot of office buildings."
Espacio also holds a residential property in Austin, TX.
Four years later, Espacio sees a bright future for international investment in Miami, particularly in the Biscayne corridor, said Maribel Goldar, Espacio's marketing manager.
"All that is happening is happening in our area," she said, including Genting Group's $3 billion-plus destination-casino project.
Ms. Goldar added that growing international investment in Miami and business from the film industry — office space for the filming of "Step Up 4" is being leased at Espacio's 1500 Biscayne — make the Biscayne area all the more enticing.
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