2 posts

Puerto Rico Businesses Follow the Flock to Florida

Puerto Rico business coming to Florida? Empresas Fonalledas, owners of San Juan’s giant Plaza Las Américas retail mall, is exploring opportunities in Osceola County. /Plaza Las Américas website

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

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

Hispanic Heritage Month Blues

Celebration of an earlier year Hispanic Heritage Month at Orlando City Hall. / Maria Padilla

Ahhh, Hispanic Heritage Month, the time between September 15 and October 15 when people pay slightly more attention to Latinos because it’s “our month.”

Not always sure what to make of this. Mixed feelings abound. That’s why you won’t find me at many Hispanic Heritage events this year. No singing and dancing for me.

Is it great that people are paying a little more attention to the 56 million Latinos in the United States – over 4 million in Florida – even though most don’t know that Latinos comprise not one group, as the name implies, but many cultures? About 16, to be exact. Do you know who are the Latinos in your area?

Is it great that people are paying attention to Latino cuisine and enjoying our music and dance?

Is it great that municipalities, counties and states with high Hispanic populations likely will host some sort of event?

The answers to all of these questions is “Yes, But…”.   hispanic-heritage

While it’s a good idea to acknowledge who is living among us – indeed, who are our neighbors – it’s disappointing that many of the events do not go beyond the festivities, food and dance.

The activities, as we say in Spanish, are por encimita. Just grazing the surface, nothing more.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Por Encimita

Some might even say the events distract from what is not happening – that Orange, the county with the third largest Puerto Rican population in the U.S., has no local elected official , save for Daisy Morales, on the Soil and Water Board. Nobody on the Orange County School Board, nobody on the Orange County Commission, even though the county is one-third Latino, half Puerto Rican.

Latinos are 27 percent of the city of Orlando but last time I checked, nowhere near that figure in city employment. The city touts that “Hispanics represent more than $10 million in buying power for the local economy.” That is surely an error. It’s maybe more like $10 billion.

Solid Contributions

Hispanic buying power in the U.S. is over $1.3 trillion – larger than Mexico’s – according to consumer buying power stats from the Selig Center for Economic Growth, in Georgia. And it’s projected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2020.

In 2012, Hispanic buying power in Florida alone was $213 billion. What is the figure today, considering that Latinos have a high growth rate?

Nearly one of every five businesses in Orlando is Hispanic-owned, according to the city.  You’d be hard pressed to find that news in Orlando Inc., otherwise known as the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce. The chamber only provides links to organizations like the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund on its “Doing Business in Orlando” page. Of the chamber’s management team, only one of a total of 20 is Hispanic. Why?

In the Orlando metro area about 17 percent of Hispanic firms are Puerto Rican-owned, compared with 31 percent for Cubans and 8 percent for Mexicans, states the Economic Census.

I could go on but you get the idea.

Latinos are not just eating, dancing or partying. They are creating businesses, jobs, gaining in voter strength, economic power, and more. Not just soaking up resources, as  is often the misimpression.

It would be great if Hispanics were given their due. Something that is not por encimita.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor