This article appeared in this months Panama 980 magazine. This is the first issue of the publication and it is focused on real-estate, adventure, night life, dinning and culture. Anyway, here you can read some more about what I believe is happening in Panama.
Sam Taliaferro, the brains behind Valle Escondido and Prima Panama, took time out of his busy schedule to give me the lowdown on Panama, the way he sees it. Sam moved to Boquete with his wife in 2000 where he had no intention of going into business. A lot of free time and his entrepreneurial spirit soon got the best of him and the idea for Valle Escondido was hatched.
“I had always lived in tourist areas and I loved the amenities that came with the tourists - the restaurants, hotels, activities...” Sam describes himself as a ‘habitual entrepreneur’ and saw an opportunity to develop the beautiful area into a tourist destination.
Sam knew Boquete would become boring for his young family so he set about bringing in the tourists himself. He wrote a letter to all the town’s residents, outlining his plans for Valle Escondido. Initially there was much opposition to Sam’s grand plans but eventually the project came to fruition and the model was set for all subsequent developments in Panama.
The concept of Valle Escondido really comes from the thousands of gated communities being built in the southern parts of the United States. However, Valle Escondido adds an element of tourism. Although a gated community in the sense of security, it is very much open to the public as well as its residents.
Climate, economic and political stability and cost of living are luring thousands of retirees yearly and why not, when Panama offers “twice the lifestyle at half the price”?
Not only has Panama recently been voted the best retirement haven by International Living, but Boquete in particular was voted the fourth best retirement location in the world by Modern Maturity Magazine, and now thousands of retirees are expected to be making their merry old way here. As such, Boquete’s unemployment has dropped to zero, wages are on the increase and Panamanians are coming to Boquete in search of employment. So, can Boquete deal with such an influx? Sam stressed the responsibility of each individual developer. Developments such as Valle Escondido are self-sufficient and developers work closely with the environmental organizations to ensure that the impact is as low as possible. However, while the sanitation services may be in place for the new developments, little is changing for the old properties. As more people move to Boquete to work, the sanitation services may not be in place for them, but this is not the responsibility of the developers. The increased income to the city from the retirees should be used to pay for these improvements.
“THOSE WHO FEAR CHANGE ARE THE LESS EDUCATED”
Over the next 12 years, 12,000 couples are predicted to retire to Panama, spurred on in particular by Sam’s new project 'Prima Panama', a series of infomercials promoting Panama in the USA and supported by a ‘passport’ of extensive discounts and helpful tools. The current estimate of the economic benefit for Panama is $15 billion for the coming 12 years - more income than the canal provides. However, in order for people to come to Panama, buy land and live here, the construction industry needs to develop more. Sam is involved in many local and national projects to aid this development and he is starting to see the growth in this area, with manual workers branching off and becoming contractors.
Such is the success in Boquete, Taliaferro
and his team have now taken to the road. In their ‘Road shows’ they
visit other areas in Panama and spread the word about the benefits
reaped from welcoming such tourism. “People are starting to want some
of the action”
Taliaferro believes that ‘residential tourism’ is a way of “strengthening democracy”. As more people move their lives to Panama, more jobs are created, more money is brought into the country, and although the whole process is capitalistic, the end result is one of increased freedom.
With such a flood of Americans coming to Panama, I wonder if it be similar to the time when the Americans controlled the canal. Sam assures me that these days will be better. Besides the economic significance of the Americans, the societal impact of their presence was not a good one. “They spent a lot of their money chasing women and drinking … it doesn’t project the best image of the American”, he says. Now, Sam is proud of the kind of American coming to Panama. Not only are they investing their money into Panama, they are also more open to involving themselves in the community, helping with social development. Sam also describes himself as ‘pro-sovereignty’ and believes that it is a great thing for Panama to have its autonomy.
To sum up my talk with Sam, I would have to say that not only did I learn a lot from him, but my positive attitude towards Panama was greatly reinforced. Sam is deeply involved in Panama on an enormous scale, and I am confident that his hard work will benefit not only him, but all foreign investors in the country and of course, Panama and its people in general.