Nokia move here could help allay other companies' fears, Nero says
By Charlotte Libov
The decision by global telecommunications company Nokia to locate its Latin American headquarters here despite Miami-Dade County's windstorm insurance woes and high cost of housing will help demonstrate to other corporations the wisdom of locating here, says Frank Nero, executive director of the Beacon Council.
"Nokia is the poster child for the type of company that we wish to recruit and that we have targeted. As we go on and target other corporations, we can say we have Nokia, Caterpillar, AIG and more. It continues to reinforce Miami-Dade County as the platform for companies that seek to have a platform here to Latin America," he said.
The Beacon Council is actively courting 108 corporations, up from the 85-90 prospects a year ago, Mr. Nero said. At that time, though, the number had also dipped because the county was busy dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.
"A project is a company that has said that, within the next 12-18 months, they are looking to relocate or expand and Miami-Dade County is an area that they are actively considering," he said. "Historically, we've closed about a third of those on a year-to-year basis."
Nokia's arrival comes at a time Mr. Nero and other economic development officials have cited concern that increases in windstorm insurance and high housing costs will deter businesses from locating here.
"It's a comparative thing. Issues like that make us less competitive," Mr. Nero said. "Companies like Nokia understand the cost of doing business here and they compare it to the savings they get because they can locate near Miami International Airport and hire the kind of multicultural workforce they need. So it shows that, even with the issues and concerns we've discussed, Miami and South Florida remain a very hot property."
Nokia's plan to locate its Latin America headquarters here was reported last spring after the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously approved $81,000 in tax refunds. That was the county's 20% share of the state's Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program, under which the company will receive a total of $405,000 over four years, with the state picking up 80% of the tab. The incentives depend on the company meeting growth targets.
Blue Lagoon's location within Miami's Enterprise Zone helped Nokia qualify for the tax incentives, as did the promise of hiring 90-100 employees, Mr. Nero said. In addition, the company nature and its hiring of people at an $80,000 average yearly salary also fit within the tax incentive program's goals.
The company's decision to set up a separate regional office stemmed from a 2004 reorganization. Previously, Latin American operations were handled out of the Americas headquarters in Irving, TX.
Maurizio Angelone, senior vice president for Nokia Latin America, said the company spent over a year choosing the site for the regional headquarters. He said that mostly other cities in Latin America were considered and, compared to them, the cost of doing business in Miami — even taking into consideration the insurance and housing issues — were not prohibitive.
"It would be expensive to bring people to live in some of those cities. The housing costs in Mexico City are high there as well," he said.
As for the tax incentives, "that's a very nice welcome," he said, although he noted that for a company the size of Nokia, it's not the deciding factor.
Nokia, which has worldwide headquarters in Espoo, Finland, had just over $48 billion in revenue last year.