COMMENTARY - February 2017

In my last post, I provided two maps concerning Panama's connectivity with the rest of the world. Both maps showed the internet cables that run through the country via the Canal.  I think that is very impressive, but it leaves simple questions?  So what? What difference does it make how many cables there are? If those cables aren't used for something constructive, they really don't mean anything, do they?

Yes, they do, precisely because they are being used for something constructive.   I am not going to waste a lot of words on this topic.  I will let three websites do the talking for me.  They are just three of the Internet tech conferences being held in Panama in the next five weeks.  A few minutes looking at each will provide enough to get the idea.

Pandemonio is international in scope, drawing participation from other nations, but at $1495 a ticker, it is not cheap!  But it does what a conference is intended to do.  It brings people and projects and ideas together that would otherwise never meet.  Networking is not just a “fad”.  It is a very powerful means of communication.

CyberTech-Latin America is more reasonably priced from $200 to $300 a ticket, depending on when someone registers, and that improves coverage which broadens communication to a larger community. It will be held in conjunction with our friends at the Ciudad del Saber (more on that in a moment) where its Innovation Center has become a focus for the growing tech community here in Panama. 

There are others that focus on specific technologies, like the TIC Forum this month sponsored by the Telefónica Business Forum on "cybersecurity", but the first two above are very good general examples of what I am talking about today.  Each year, the number of these conferences held in Panama and their level of sophistication increases.

But conferences are not enough.  You must have a permanent facility that not only sponsors conferences like these, but also provides resources for continuous research, development and above all, their use.  In other words, Panama needs its own version of Silicon Valley.  It has one.

.The Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge) is a non-profit foundation created in 1995 to encourage Panamanian research and development.  In November of 1999, as part of the Panama Canal's transition from US to Panamanian control, the Ciudad was "given the keys" to Fort Clayton, a former US Army base, for development.  It was a great gift, but also a great burden.  Just the maintenance of the remaining structures was a financial and administrative challenge in a time when the Panamanian economy had not yet begun its spectacular growth.

Today, as their website clearly demonstrates (in English and en Español), the Foundation has been a great success.  Every day, some 5,000 people visit the city to work in one of the nearly 200 businesses, research centers, inter-governmental agencies, and non-profits that have operations there (see a Directory here), attend conferences, workshops and seminars, or take part in a wide variety of activities in every sector.  The Ciudad is not small.  It includes more than 200 buildings on 120 hectares (about 300 acres).  The Ciudad is truly a "ciudad", itself.

The Ciudad is about more than just technology and entrepreneurship.  They also have selected other agencies and businesses as residents to increase the intellectual interchange.  If you have a moment, take a look at their Annual Report.  Expand it to full size and just flip through the "pages".  You don't have to read the text, the dozens and dozens of photos tell the story better than words alone.

A final point that impresses me.  The Ciudad del Saber does not receive a single penny of taxpayer money.  They are solely responsible for earning their $20 million (and growing) budget.  How appropriate!  They train entrepreneurs and they are successful entrepreneurs themselves.

The real answer to the questions at the beginning is simple.  The Ciudad del Saber is one impressive example of how Panama uses the oceanic cables that pass within sight of the Ciudad to productive use. The conferences further underline this. Those cables provide Panama with more than just a pretty map.  They provide it with above-average connectivity and relevancy in the 21st century.

At Panama Wave, we know that the last 15 years of economic growth have changed the nation in more ways than increases in GDP, the expansion of the Canal, or even the Ciudad.  Successful investment requires deep, not shallow, analysis that requires a much broader view of the reality of today's Panama. That is precisely what Panama Wave brings to the marketplace.

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