Foreign investment provides nearly 5 percent of jobs
Marcia Heroux / June 24, 2014 / articles.sun-sentinel.com
Brazilians, Canadians and other foreign investors have been the prime buyers of new condominiums in South Florida in recent years. But foreign investors also are pumping money into U.S. businesses and setting up corporate offices in the tri-county region, and that’s creating jobs.
Nearly 92,000 jobs — or 4.7 percent of all private jobs — in South Florida are provided by foreign-owned companies, according to a new study released Friday by Brookings Institute.
“Foreign direct investment is a fresh injection of capital into our economy, supporting millions of well-paying jobs across the nation’s metros, strengthening our industry clusters and boosting our global competitiveness,” said Devashree Saha, Brookings senior policy analyst, and a co-author of the report.
In South Florida, foreign investment comes from 71 countries, mainly in the Americas and Europe, she said.
Local economic development experts say foreign companies regularly knock on their doors.
For Latin American and Caribbean companies, Broward County is “a great launching pad to North America,” said Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. “We’re seeing a lot of interest from Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil as well.”
Recently, a Brazilian vacationing in Fort Lauderdale called the Alliance to see if he could stop by.
“He’s looking for a soft landing system where Brazilians can open up additional locations here to create an incubator or path they can follow” to expand into the U.S. market, said Swindell.
Some foreign companies also are opening Latin American headquarters in the area. They like South Florida’s easy access to Latin America and its diverse workforce, including many residents who speak the languages and know the business norms of countries overseas.
Plus, investors from nations in political or currency upheaval often turn to the United States because of confidence their investment will be protected by the U.S. legal system, Swindell said.
Broward is attracting foreign companies in fields including medical devices, aviation and logistics.
Investors in Fort Lauderdale alone include Brazil’s airplane maker Embraer, which runs its U.S. headquarters; Peru’s Camposol, a fruit and vegetable producer developing U.S. sales; and Switzerland’s mining company Nystar, which oversees its Latin American operations.
Embraer now employs about 270 people in Fort Lauderdale and more than 1,300 across the United States, said Gary Spulak, president of the company’s U.S. unit. The Fort Lauderdale jobs include a maintenance, overhaul and repair center for its executive jets — some made in Melbourne, Fla.
“Embraer’s investments across the United States now total more than $100 million,” Spulak said.
Palm Beach County has difficulty competing for Latin American companies that more often locate in Broward or Miami-Dade, but it has attracted plenty of European and Canadian investments.
In north Palm Beach County, Germany’s discount grocery chain Aldi is building a distribution center in Royal Palm Beach that is slated to employ 150 people. That’s on top of the hundreds that Aldi already employs at more than a dozen stores across South Florida.
Further south, Swiss watch maker Ulysses Nardin located its flagship U.S. boutique in Boca Raton in 2010. A year later, Canadian firm Garda World Cash Services based its U.S. operations in Boca Raton, and it’s up to 170 jobs there and soon to reach 200.
Garda liked Florida’s business climate and chose Boca Raton partly for ease of travel for executives, said Nathalie de Champlain, vice president of marketing and communications.
“As many of our largest and complex clients are located on the East Coast, it is an ideal location for our senior managers who frequently visit those client locations,” said de Champlain.
Some foreign investments in Palm Beach County are buyouts of existing businesses, especially in the aerospace, medical device and technology fields.
“Foreign companies are coming in purchasing existing companies, realizing their existing investments, and our economy is coming back very strong,” said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “It’s a significant trend.”
Germany’s Jenoptik AG in 2002, for example, bought Coastal Optical Systems in Jupiter and renamed it Jenoptik Optical Systems. And Germany’s OASE Group this year bought West Palm Beach-based GeoGlobal Partners, a provider of water gardening products.
Brookings analyst Saha said that mergers and acquisitions account for 38,000 jobs in the region provided by foreign-owned companies.
As a whole, South Florida “has a very good story going on” in foreign direct investment, she said.
Across the United States, foreign-owned companies directly employ some 5.6 million workers or 5.5 percent of the private workforce, based on the latest available data through 2011, Brookings said.