It’s easy to envision what a world-class technology hub for the Americas could look like in Florida. There’s already one shining example in Fort Lauderdale, at Microsoft’s Latin America headquarters.
The tech giant employs 400 people at its bustling offices, up from 100 five years ago. Its business in Latin America and the Caribbean has tripled in that same time to top $1 billion per year.
From the Fort Lauderdale headquarters, Microsoft oversees operations in 46 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, where it employs some 2,000 people in factories, research, sales and other operations.
Business is so strong that the region ranked as the fastest-growth area for Microsoft worldwide in recent years, said Microsoft Latin America President Hernan Rincon.
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“We believe that Latin America is a land of opportunities,” said Rincon, a Colombian industrial engineer.
Last year, the fast-developing region ranked No. 5 for sales among Microsoft’s 13 world regions, as its growing middle class snapped up computers, game consoles, cellphones and many other tech offerings. And speedy growth should continue.
Rincon cited studies from researcher IDC forecasting that investment in information technology in Latin America could reach $139 billion this year, up 8 percent from 2013. Sales of tablets alone should rise 34 percent in the region this year, IDC predicts.
Tapping into that economic activity should bring more tech jobs and business to South Florida, say organizers behind eMerge Americas, a group pushing to make the region a tech hub for the Americas.
Microsoft was actively involved with a conference eMerge had last week, especially with sessions on helping cities use technology to better connect systems, data and people.
Microsoft is working on its CityNext programs with officials in Buenos Aires in Argentina, São Paulo in Brazil and Medellin in Colombia to make information more accessible and services more affordable, Rincon said.
Microsoft chose South Florida for its Latin America headquarters about two decades ago. It moved to its current site in Fort Lauderdale in 2002. The lure: proximity and easy access to Latin America, “perspective” to lead the entire region from a South Florida location, and the availability of talent both from South Florida and Latin America, executives said.
The company’s presence and expansion serve as selling points for business in Broward County, Fla.
“For Microsoft to have their Latin America headquarters in Broward is a huge vote of confidence for our area,” said Bob Swindell of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
South Florida long has worked to lure corporate headquarters for Latin America. Those offices typically offer jobs paying above average salaries based on staff with language and cultural skills.
Their overseas links also often lead to greater trade of goods through regional ports. It also tends to bring in staff, customers and others from Latin America and other world regions, helping lift business at area hotels, restaurants, nightspots and retail shops, Swindell said.
“No trip to South Florida is complete without a visit to Sawgrass Mills,” he joked, referring to the outlet mall popular among Latin Americans for brand-name goods sold at lower prices than in their homelands.
Tech headquarters also give an extra boost to South Florida by spurring collaboration with local universities and local tech efforts for business, government and nonprofits, say backers of eMerge Americas.
Last week, Microsoft announced it had chosen Miami for the first U.S. “Innovation Center,” which it expects to open later this spring.
The company has 100 such centers worldwide — facilities operated by Microsoft and community partners equipped with technology and tools, and which are open to students, software developers, IT professionals, academics, entrepreneurs and others.
The centers offer programs and services designed to develop skills, foster innovation and collaboration, and grow local software economies.
The Miami center is the first of several planned for the U.S., including one in Washington, D.C.
Material from Seattle Times technology reporter Janet I. Tu is included in this report.