* Florida has a lower cost of living than places such as Los Angeles and New York, and it has no state or local income taxes.
* Miami offers proximity to Spanish-speaking customers in the United States as well as Latin America. The city has more flights to Latin America than all other U.S. airports combined. Hispanics account for about 55 percent of Miami-Dade County’s 2.1 million residents. The area provides a home-grown supply of well-educated bilingual employees and attracts others from throughout the United States and Latin America.
“We chose Miami because it is the most purely Hispanic market in the United States,” says Ignacio Vidaguren, the U.S. country manager of Mercadolibre. The company relocated from Buenos Aires in January 2000, favoring Miami over New York and Los Angles.
The management at Mercadolibre decided South Florida would be the best place to launch a limited pilot test of its Web site and advertising campaign before launching a nationwide rollout, Mr. Vidaguren says. So far, U.S. Hispanics account for about 10 percent of Mercadolibre’s traffic. The remainder comes from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Venezuela, and Spain.
Another reason Mercadolibre selected Miami is that it offers opportunities to network with top Internet players and keep up with the latest technology. “I can give you several examples of things that help our business that we probably would not know about if we had not come to the United States,” says Mr. Vidaguren. For instance, a Silicon Playa acquaintance told him that representatives from a new company that insures online auction transactions would attend a technology conference in San Francisco. Mercadolibre executives went to the conference and hired the firm shortly thereafter. “There are no dot-coms like that in Latin America,” Mr. Vidaguren notes.
Andre Vanyi-Robin is another Internet executive who founded his company in Latin America but soon decided that it would fare better in Miami. He relocated Visualcom, a Latin America-focused Internet consulting firm, from Caracas in 1997. “Miami provided easier access to capital, a better technology infrastructure, and better access potential to U.S customers,” says Mr. Vanyi-Robin.
He recently sold Visualcom to another Miami-based dot-com, Fusion Networks, after finding it difficult to raise additional venture capital because of the Nasdaq plunge. At the time of the sale, Visualcom’s customers were evenly split between the United States and Latin America. Mr. Vanyi-Robin is now the chief strategic officer of Nasdaq-traded Fusion Networks (FUSN), which specializes in software and content in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
As a major broadcast center, Miami embodies the concept of media synergy. Mr. Aberg-Cobo notes that El Sitio’s merger to form Claxson Interactive will seek to combine content from the Internet, radio, television, and pay TV channels. “We will be able to offer cross-media packages to our advertisers, and also the best content and interactive features to our users,” he explains. “It’s better to be physically in the same place to achieve the synergies that we are thinking about.” Mr. Aberg-Cobo expects a consolidation of media operations in Miami as the integration proceeds.
Thousands of Spanish-speaking Internet executives, programmers, network administrators, content editors, and Web designers from around the world flock to South Florida. “Between the locals, Hispanics from elsewhere in the United States, and Latin Americans who left their countries for various macroeconomic reasons, you have the cream of the crop in Miami,” says Mr. Vanyi-Robin.
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