By Derek Reveron
January/February 2001 - California has Silicon Valley. New York has Silicon Alley. Texas has Silicon Prairie. Now Florida has Silicon Playa, the Spanish phrase meaning Silicon Beach.
Silicon Playa is an 80-mile stretch of real estate from West Palm Beach to Miami that has emerged as the prime Internet hub for Latin America. Overall, the number of technology companies in South Florida grew from 4,351 in 1996 to 5,806 in 2000, a 33 percent jump, according to the Technology Forum of South Florida. Among the companies are dozens of dot-coms targeting Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers worldwide.
Many of these Internet firms relocated to Silicon Playa from Latin America.
“Miami is the natural and logical location for our office, because the primary focus is pan-regional sales,” says Alex Aberg-Cobo, director of U.S. operations for portal site El Sitio. “Access to the region is very important to us, because El Sitio is a network of sites in eight countries in Latin America. And we are closely integrated.”
As Silicon Playa residents see it, if you are Hispanic and you want to create the Spanish-language Internet of the future, then South Florida is the place to be. “There is a critical mass of people here who spend all of their time thinking about and producing Web sites for Hispanics,” says Jeordan Legon, managing editor of elHerald.com, the Spanish-language online version of the Miami Herald.
The list of dot-coms with headquarters or offices in South Florida includes AOL Latin America (a joint venture between America Online and the Cisneros Group of Venezuela), DeRemate.com, Fiera.com, Eritmo.com, Yupi Internet, El Sitio, Patagon, Starmedia Networks, Salud.com, Todobebe.com, Ehola.com, Terra Networks, Salutia.com, SportsYa.com, Gringolandia.com, GarageLatino.com, Mundonet.com, IFX (www.unete.com), and Mercadolibre.com. Many of the firms are located in Miami Beach, especially along the trendy Lincoln Road promenade.
South Florida also hosts a range of B2B sites that target Latin America. Todoplasticos.com, for instance, sells resins and machinery parts and provides leads on manufacturing contracts. FuturoSeguro.com sells insurance in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
Hispanic Internet executives cite several reasons for the growth of Silicon Playa:
* Miami is the financial, business, and trade hub of Latin America. It has more foreign-owned banks than any city in the United States except New York. South Florida is home to the Latin American offices of more than 100 multinational corporations, many of which maintain Web sites. Miami also accounts for 30 percent of all U.S. trade with South America and 43 percent of the nation’s trade with Central America.
* Latin America is the world’s fastest-growing market for online services, with more than 500 million potential customers. The Latin American Internet services market will increase by 42 percent a year over the next four years, according to International Data Corp.
* For Latin American Internet operators, the United States provides economic and political stability as well as better access to venture capital and the latest technology. “Having a presence in Miami has helped the company gain credibility with investors, advertisers, partners, and users,” says El Sitio’s Mr. Aberg-Cobo. “We frequently meet with executives from other dot-coms or entertainment companies located in Miami Beach, and we therefore are able to establish strategic alliances with them.” In October 2000, El Sitio announced plans to merge with the Internet properties of the Cisneros Group to form Claxson Interactive Group.
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