Puerto Rico businesses continue to follow their flock of customers to Florida as island economic conditions squeeze Puerto Ricans.
Ana G. Mendez and Polytechnic universities established themselves in Orlando several years ago. Most recently, wholesale food distributor Titan, home decor retailer Casa Febus and El Mesón restaurant have opened for business in Central Florida.
A new name may be added to these businesses: Empresas Fonalledas, the retail developers of Plaza Las Américas, the retail mall in San Juan that is the largest in the Caribbean and the 15th largest by square footage in all of the United States, with over 2 million square feet of retail space. The mall houses well-known American retailers such as JC Penney (the largest one in the world, by the way, at four stories), Macy’s, Michael Kors, Brooks Brothers and Carolina Herrera, to name a few. The mall is so well known it’s simply known as “Plaza.”
Top-level officials of the family-owned business – including President Jaime Fonalledas – paid a visit to Kissimmee, according to Mayor José Alvarez who later wrote on Facebook:
“I had a very productive meeting today at City Hall. We hosted Mr. Jaime Fonalledas, Luis Fonalledas and Cesar Segarra.
“Mr. Jaime Fonalledas, is the President of Empresas Fonalledas, Inc.
Empresas Fonalledas Inc., is the management company of the group of family held companies which own Plaza Las Américas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean and one of the top retail and entertainment venues in the United States. Empresas Fonalledas Inc., also has holdings in dairy cattle operations, milk processing plants, non-dairy food industries, plastics manufacturing, real estate ventures, and retail. Generating more than 10,000 jobs in total, Empresas Fonalledas companies include Plaza del Caribe, Vaqueria Tres Monjitas, Ganaderia Tres Monjitas and franchises in the Puerto Rico market of Starbucks and Soft & Creamy.”
It’s still unclear what Empresas Fonalledas may launch in Kissimmee, but nabbing the Fonalledas would be like hooking a great white whale. The Fonalledas are among the wealthiest families in Puerto Rico and big donors to the Republican Party. In fact, Zoraida Fonalledas, Jaime’s spouse, has been a speaker or presenter at GOP conventions. (She was once booed.)
Empress Fonalledas, ranked the island’s No. 1 service sector company by Caribbean Business, spent nearly $1.7 million on lobbying during legislation for the unpopular PROMESA bill, which Congress approved to manage Puerto Rico’s then $72 billion debt crisis, according to a Noticel article that quoted OpenSecrets.org.
PROMESA’s austerity measures coupled with an ongoing 10-year old economic recession is profoundly changing Puerto Rico. Today there are more Puerto Ricans residing stateside – over 5 million, including Puerto Ricans born in the states – than on the island, with 3.4 million people.
Kissimmee and Osceola County now are home to the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in Florida. And it makes business sense to follow the flock to Florida as the island, sadly, empties of young, working-age families with consumer dollars to spend.
The pull of brand names and fond memories is strong. Puerto Ricans are excited to seek out the brands they recognize. On a recent visit to Orlando my Jacksonville-based mom couldn’t wait to eat at El Mesón, known for its fat sandwiches on pan criollo.
However, the retail environment in Florida and the states is more challenging, forcing the closure of anchor stores as well as malls. Fashion Square and Oviedo are two area malls that have been impacted.
Still, what Empresas Fonalledas decides opts to do in Osceola County aimed at the Puerto Rican community will be well worth watching.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor