The U.S.-Panama Business Council will launch its Southeast chapter in Atlanta July 15 with a “Panama Day” program at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
The 14-year-old bi-national organization has headquarters in Washington and a branch in Panama City, but business opportunities have brought about the need for bases in the Southeast and Southwest U.S.
The Southeast has long held important interests in Panama because ports like the Port of Savannah and others on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico rely heavily on goods transiting the Panama Canal, said Juan Sosa, a former Panamanian ambassador to the U.S.
Mr. Sosa, who founded and heads the council’s national organization, said ties have only grown stronger as more multinational companies have located their headquarters in the South, especially in Atlanta.
“Obviously in Atlanta it’s not only Delta who has a very profitable operation in Panama, but you have companies such as UPS, Coca-Cola, Georgia Pacific and others who have operations in Panama,” Mr. Sosa told GlobalAtlanta by phone from Houston. “It was a logical step for the council to establish this chapter and especially in Atlanta for its headquarters.”
Luis Hall, president of Atlanta business consulting firm BLJ Group, was selected by Mr. Sosa to spearhead the Southeast initiative two years ago at a breakfast meeting in Panama with the country’s vice president.
As the Panama Canal begins a more than $5 billion expansion project, ports in the Southeast are beginning to evaluate whether they’re ready to handle the increased traffic, Mr. Hall told GlobalAtlanta in a video interview.
The awareness about Panama created by that huge undertaking combined with its existing logistics infrastructure and emergence as a prime real estate market make this an opportune time to bring the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee closer to the Central American nation.
Along with Mr. Sosa, Mr. Hall believes Atlanta is the appropriate location for a regional headquarters, and not just because he lives in the Georgia capital. Atlanta and Panama are the business hubs in their respective regions, he said.
“I look at Panama and Atlanta as two hubs coming together, … so it was the perfect marriage,” he said.
Mr. Hall and Mr. Sosa would both like to see the relationship deepen with the reactivation of an honorary consulate of Panama in Atlanta by the end of the year.
They also encourage passage of a free trade agreement between Panama and the U.S., which was ratified in both countries last year but awaits a vote in Congress.
On hand and accessible for the full scope of Panama Day activities will be Panama’s minister of commerce and industry, Carmen Vergara.
According to a preliminary agenda, she will speak at an invitation-only luncheon and participate in open panel discussions. The event is supported the the metro chamber as well as the World Trade Center Atlanta.
A dinner reception and the inauguration of board members will follow.
Mr. Hall said the council has filled 12 of 21 slots on its board, which will be comprised of representatives from key sectors and each of the six states in the chapter’s jurisdiction.
It will also have a corporate advisory board. Members will likely come from large companies throughout the region that have operations in Panama.
The Southwest branch of the council is based in Houston.