Being an intern here at the FACC, I got an opportunity to attend the World Strategic Forum that was held in the Biltmore Hotel in Miami April 13th & 14th, 2015. The hotel itself was already worth a visit: It is a luxury hotel built in 1926, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Biltmore Hotel has also been used as a setting for the movie Bad Boys and in some television programs including CSI: Miami. I attended the event with the Vice President of FACC, Peter Makila, and a freelancer journalist and the owner of the USAsuomeksi website, Timo Vainionpää. We only attended the first day, which covered many interesting topics ranging from the current uncertainty around the global economy to more local topics such as the real estate market and its future in South Florida.
There were many important and well-known speakers at the Forum from all over the world: Shaukat Aziz, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Wilfredo R. Cerrato Rodriquez, Minister of Finance of the Republic of Honduras, and Carlos A. Gimenez, Mayor of Miami-Dade County, to name a few. The Forum was a great opportunity to network with both the speakers and other participants. The breaks in between the sessions were more informal than I had expected and, thus, I got to speak to several other participants of the Forum as well as to a couple of speakers.
Having just moved to Florida for the period of my internship, I was interested to learn a bit about the area. The Forum began with an opening session, which shed light to why Miami was chosen as a location for this World Strategic Forum. Mr. Gimenez reasoned that South Florida, Miami especially, is well-positioned with regards to trade due to its geographical location. Miami is a gateway to South America, Europe and Africa with Miami airport handling about 34 million passengers each year. Moreover, Miami is a cruise capital of the world, and port Miami can handle large cargo and is connected to major highways. What is more, Florida recently made a rail infrastructure investment that allows 70% of US consumers to be reached within four days from Miami port, as Mr. Lopez-Cantera, Lieutenant Governor of State of Florida, pointed out. He also added that Florida has relatively low taxes on business. As a final remark, he pointed out that Florida has recently invested in education ensuring the future supply in highly skilled workforce. Thus, South Florida has a great potential for investment and enjoys a high economic growth.
Lopez-Cantera stated that there are 97.3 million visitors in Florida each year making it the number one tourist destination in the US. As a comparison, California only attracts about 60 million visitors each year. There are over 120 languages spoken just in Miami-Dade, according to Mr. Gimenez, making it a very multicultural county. The speakers at the Forum clearly emphasized that thanks to the above mentioned aspects, Florida is a good place to invest in. This seemed to explain why the event was chosen to be held in Miami, Florida this year.
Next, we attended a session on “Growth in a Diverging World”. The speakers, Justin Chinyata, Executive Vice-President of the Africa Roundtable, Warren Jestin, Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of Scotiabank, and Heman Daems, Chairman of BNP Paribas Fortis, seemed to have differing opinions on where should investors invest in today. Mr. Chinyanta argued that although tourism has recently declined in whole of Africa because of the spread of the Ebola virus (even though it only affected three West African countries), seven out of ten fastest growing economies in the world are, in fact, in Africa. Thus, Mr. Chinyanta encouraged investors to invest in Africa, which has a lot of growth potential. Mr. Jestin, on the other hand, believed that US is now becoming the center of investment market and he would encourage investing there. Mr. Daems was more reserved arguing that potential of economic growth in the world is in decline. His opinion with regards to where to invest was that “you should never go with the flow, but to go with what you know and understand”. To me, these seemed wise words.
Next, we chose to attend a session on the real estate market and its future. The session was very much focused on the real estate market in South Florida, since one of the key speakers Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz, had extensive knowledge and expertise in real estate transactions in Miami area. She reasoned that the real estate market in Miami is still considered to be cheap compared to that of NYC and Washington D.C., for example. Further, Harvey Hernandez, Chairman and Managing Director of Newgard Development Group, gave a list of reasons on what makes Florida an attractive place for real estate investment: its political stability, safety, nice weather conditions, attractions, diversity, culture, public transportation, roads, and a “lifestyle brand” it has managed to create. One of the panelists, William G. Hardin, from the Tibor and Sheila Hollo School of Real Estate and the Jerome Bain Real Estate Institute put it well together by saying: “Real estate is part of what makes Miami Miami”.
After the opening and the two sessions, we had a chance to take part to a luncheon held in the hotel. Instead of formal speeches, the Forum was organized into panel discussions. We observed one of these panel discussions over the lunch. The topic of the discussion was “Building Resilience in a New Economic Order”. I felt this discussion touched upon sensitive and somewhat controversial topics such as financial markets and Russian politics. However, on the positive note the speakers seemed optimistic about the future of the global economy.
Overall, I was really happy to have the chance to attend to this interesting Forum. It would make sense for Finland to be somehow present in this event in the future since there is such a big Finnish community in South Florida. The Forum could also provide an opportunity for Finland to attract foreign investment. I can warmly recommend all our members to attend this event next year! FACC has worked hard to establish connections with the International Economic Forum of Americas, who is behind this event. The price of a ticket to the event is worth of $800, but we have had the opportunity to give out some tickets to our members in recent years. Thus, keep your eyes open next year this time to get a chance to participate!
Timo Vainionpää took some great pictures at the event and has agreed us to publish them here.