Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Navigating Venezuela' uncertain economic environment

Venezuela’s economy had been deteriorating for years when falling oil prices in 2015 and 2016 accelerated the decline of its currency. Currency controls make it nearly impossible to exchange Venezuelan bolivars for hard currency, and the government has set price controls on anything it considers a necessity. As a result, companies don’t have the money to import much of anything, residents can’t afford basic necessities, and food and medicine are in short supply. Many foreign firms cannot repatriate their earnings. International airlines, for instance, have about $3.8 billion trapped in Venezuela.

Public relations and public affairs firm Burson-Marsteller created a Venezuela specialty team to help clients in Venezuela. Florida Trend spoke with Miami-based Lucas Silva Wood, Burson-Marsteller’s group director for public affairs and Florida, and Andrés Avila, a public affairs associate at the firm who is a native Venezuelan and formerly worked in its Caracas office.

FT: What do you tell companies that want to stay in the country?

Avila: We believe that there are opportunities for companies to stay in Venezuela, especially understanding what it means to have a presence in a country that is strategically placed at the north of South America and has access to the Caribbean. (But) it’s also hard for companies to decide to launch a new product or an expansion because the country is so involved in the economic crisis it’s hard for a company to get in the middle of that and get that space in the media.

FT: What do you share with your clients that they can’t get from other reports?

Wood: We have a realistic view of the situation, so we can help our clients with intelligence — not just with what the media is publishing, but more information about the temperature in the country, what’s going on with different stakeholders.

FT: What’s the most important thing you tell your clients about doing business in Venezuela?

Avila: You have to know your processes and protocols in order to handle a crisis. You need to have your training. You need to have your messaging straight to get everyone in the company in touch with how the company can handle a corporate crisis and how the company can handle a reputational crisis.

Uncertainty cannot become an obstacle for companies to operate. It has to become a particularity of the environment, and you have to find a way to work with that uncertainty. Companies can also find their strengths here in the uncertainty.

FT: Will Burson-Marsteller continue to operate in a country that many other firms have left?

Wood: We have this operation, and this means that we believe that there are opportunities.

AVENTURA — TreatMD launched its international telemedicine platform, which is available in 30 languages and connects medical care providers around the world with their patients.

CORAL GABLES — Miami-based medical ride service startup Ride- 2MD added a partnership with on-demand ride service Lyft to help patients arrange transportation to medical appointments.

DORAL — Carnival ordered two 5,200-passenger cruise ships, set to begin sailing in 2020 and 2022, that will be powered by liquefied natural gas.

KEY WEST — United Airlines will run non-stop seasonal flights from Key West International Airport to Chicago O’Hare and Newark, N.J., the only non-stop flights on those routes. Monroe County Commissioners waived first-year fees for the airline.

MARATHON — Community Health of Florida is expanding. The hospital should be able to serve an additional 1,800 patients.

MIAMI — Miami Beach-based Goldman Properties sold land and a building for $30.75 million to New York-based RedSky Capital. » Related Group is delaying construction on its 298-unit Auberge Residences & Spa Miami; the company did not say when it will begin construction. » A group of Miami developers launched sales at Auto House, a 45-unit car storage facility in the city’s Overtown neighborhood. Units can include wet bars and entertainment systems. It also has a top-floor social club. » Sports fantasy gaming company Synkt Games secured a funding round for an undisclosed amount, led by Boca Raton-based New World Angels.

MIAMI BEACH — Financial technology startup Nymbus raised $12 million in an investment round led by shareholders of Vensure Enterprises, which is also based in Miami Beach.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY — Commercial laundry and dry cleaning equipment, parts and service company EnviroStar will pay $28 million in cash and stock to acquire California- based Western State Design, which distributes and services coin-operated laundry products.

» An investment group led by ABS Partners Real Estate and Acre Valley Real Estate Capital paid $150 million for the two-tower, nearly 500,000-sq.-ft. Datran Center office complex, located in the Kendall area.

MIAMI GARDENS — A multi-year deal between on-demand ride service Uber and the Miami Dolphins has led to a designated Uber pick-up and drop-off areas at Hard Rock Stadium, as well as a turnkey game day tailgating service called UberTAILGATE. It is Uber’s first deal with a professional sports team that combines transportation and tailgating services. » Health care and commercial interiors company Cube Care will expand its manufacturing capabilities and add 20 employees to its current 24.

NORTH MIAMI — IMC Equity Group acquired the West Sunset Square retail center in the county’s West Kendall area, giving it ownership of more than $1 billion of real estate in Florida.

» Aventurabased Restaurant chain Benihana named Thomas J. Baldwin CEO and president, replacing Steven Shlemon. Baldwin was a Benihana board member and an adviser to the chain’s main investor.

» John A. Kanas, CEO of Miami Lakes-based BankUnited, will retire Jan. 1 and be replaced by current BankUnited COO Rajinder P. Singh. Kanas will remain chairman. Thomas M. Cornish, the bank’s current Florida region president, will replace Singh as COO.

» Larry K. Williams, CEO of Miami-Dade economic development partnership Beacon Council, left the organization to become president and CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia.

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