Panama is a small country. When I was young, my father compared the business climate here in Panama to a wine bottle cork and he told me, “Whatever you do, even if you press this cork down to the bottom of the ocean, it will always pop up.” Panama is very, very benevolent. It will let you make money and it will let you live a good life. Panama is a good country. That’s why my father compared it to a wine bottle cork. If you work hard and keep your expenses low, you can make money in Panama.
Over the last five years or so, the population of Panama has doubled from people new to Panama, many of whom are business people. Sometimes they come from countries with as many as 40 million people or more, while Panama has only 2.5 million people. Many of these newcomers come with bigger ideas and see things bigger than we as Panamanians do.
Many of the newcomers come with their larger scope ideas, yet we Panamanians are “owners of the backyard” and we know that the very large projects may take a little more time than the newcomers are accustomed to. As an example, a franchise of McDonald’s will work in Panama, but it would be difficult to begin with opening fifty at one time. The reason is that the country of Panama is too small to support expansion that rapidly.
The business people in Panama can be sophisticated and worldly. Many are graduates from US schools. For example, I graduated from Georgia Tech and Panama’s president is from Georgia Tech. We have graduates from other top schools. We have Panamanian graduates from the Wharton School of Business, such as my son. In Panama, there is a large quantity of very highly educated people. However, there are no major industrial companies that Panamanians run. Instead, they run companies such as banks. We have 110 banks, partially because Panama is well situated at being the center of the world. Our business people don’t run companies like General Motors because there’s no such thing as an industrial company that size here in Panama.
Part of the motto of Panama is, “We are the crossroads of the world” because north to south and east to west, you have to go through the Canal. We have seventy local flights to anywhere in the world and we have approximately ten new airlines coming in. We are going to have a flight directly to Dubai in another month, which will be around 16 hours long. You can fly from Panama City to Paris directly. You fly directly to London. You fly to Spain on any of several Spanish airlines. These are just some examples of the destinations you can reach from Panama City through approximately seventy flights a day to virtually anywhere in the world.