Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Location, Location, Location – SPI’s Trade Mission to Panama

Posted by Michael Taylor, SPI Senior Director, International Affairs & Trade

It was a great bit of timing that today, the last day of SPI’s trade mission to Panama, also marked the 99th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal, an event that radically changed global trade. As I knew before SPI’s trade mission to Panama, the country has certainly benefited from the “Location, location, location” adage attributed to William Dillard, founder of Dillard’s Department Stores. What we learned on the mission, however, was just how well Panama has managed the advantages and assets it inherited and how tremendous a business opportunity it represents.

The Panama Pacifico mixed-use development is  among the largest in the world.

The Panama Pacifico mixed-use development is among the largest in the world. Panama City in distance.

Panama is currently engaged in the following infrastructure projects:

  • Panama Canal Expansion
  • Further Expansion of Tocumen International Airport
  • Panama Metro Lines
  • Panama’s City Hospital
  • Third and Fourth Bridges over the Panama Canal
  • New Port on Margarita Island, Colon
  • Oil Terminal in Las Minas Bay, Colon
  • Copper Mine
The Panama Canal will be widened to handle larger container ships.

The Panama Canal will be widened to handle ships carrying more than twice as many containers as today.

Clearly, Panama is engaged in an amazing level of infrastructural improvements. The Panama Canal expansion project alone will double the capacity of the Canal by 2015 by creating a new lane of traffic and allowing more and larger ships to transit. The size of ships that can transit the canal, dubbed Panamax, is constrained largely by the locks, which require ships to be less than 110 feet (33.53 m) wide and 1,050 feet (320.04 m) long, and have a draft of less than 41.2 feet (12.56 m). The new lock chambers will be 180 feet (54.86 m) wide and 1,400 feet (426.72 m) long, and 60 feet (18.29 m) deep. Now the Panama Canal can accommodate ships transporting 4,500 to 5,000 containers. After expansion the Canal will be able to accommodate post-Panamax cargo ships transporting more than 13,000 containers.

Visiting the Miraflores Lock during the SPI Trade Mission were (l to r) Michael Taylor of SPI, Nancy Royce and Wylie Royce of SPI member company Royce Associates.

Visiting  Miraflores Lock during the SPI Trade Mission were (l to r) Michael Taylor of SPI, Nancy Royce, and Wylie Royce of SPI member company Royce Associates.

Panama Pacifico is a mixed-use Special Economic Area in Panama on the former Howard Air Force Base, situated on the western bank of the Canal opposite Balboa. In development since 2007, the project includes 3,450 acres of land, making it one of the largest development projects in the world.

The Panama Pacifico master-planned community will feature 20,000 homes within several neighborhoods, surrounded by the natural environment of mango groves, wetlands, and tropical forests. A downtown district, Town Center, will serve as a central point for retail, restaurant, and entertainment areas. Luxury hotels are also planned. A number of multinational corporations have already located in Panama Pacifico, including 3M, DELL, VF, BASF, Samtec, and Caterpillar. Panama Pacifico is located 15 minutes from downtown Panama City, 35 minutes from Tocumen International Airport, and adjacent to the Pan-American Highway that connects the Americas.

International firms — particularly those involved in the maritime, manufacturing, and technology sectors — find Panama Pacifico an excellent option for their Latin American operations. More than 145 companies are now in operation in the Special Economic Area, including eight in the Fortune 500. Panama Pacifico eventually could create 40,000 jobs and is projected to be worth around $10 billion when finished, which is equivalent to more than half of Panama’s gross national product.

Panama City seen from Casco Viejo, the Old Town.

Panama City seen from Casco Viejo, the Old Town.

Panama Pacifico offers a package of economic incentives unequaled by any such Special Economic Zone in the world. The combination of the strength of the Panamanian economy, the advantages from the Canal, and the strategic location of the country itself, equals an incredible opportunity for companies. It seems we in the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Panamanian governance and planning.

This is another example of the valuable things that can be learned from participating in a trade mission and exploring market opportunities firsthand. SPI’s next trade mission is to Mumbai, India from December 12-16 in conjunction with the Plastivision India 2013 Exhibition and Conference. Please join us. Learn how other markets not only present opportunities, but sometimes also can teach us how to do things better ourselves.

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