The Other Side of the Isthmus

Welcome aboard our final leg on The Slow Steamer! I’m writing this final blog on a front porch in Fayetteville. I’m now stateside and I’m here to tow you through the last locks of the canal and to finally show you the other side of the isthmus. The past three weeks have been some of the most memorable times of my life, and I’ll tell you why!

To tow you up to speed, the first day after our visit to CEVA and DHL was a free day! Prior to our free day, I noticed that everytime we drove into Panama City in earnest, we passed a steep hill with a huge Panamanian flag on top of it. I figured if we could get up there, it would provide an amazing view of the Panama City skyline. So on our free day, a group of us decided to make the trek up the hill that overlooked the city. The hill is called Cerro Ancon, or Ancon Hill. When we reached the top of the hill, we were amazed at how much of Panama City we could see. It was definitely worth the time and effort to get to the top. While we were up there, I noticed a man that looked like he was from the United States speaking fluent Spanish to what looked like his personal tour guide. After talking with him, I found out he was French by birth, he grew up in the Northeast of the US, and he studied abroad in Seville Spain, which is where I happen to be born. He gave me his business card; he runs a Yacht company out of San Francisco. I also noticed a man siting down in full cycling gear resting on a bench. Next to him was a VERY expensive bike. I struck up a conversation with him about my admiration of his exotic taste in bikes only to find out that he was the brother of the current president of Panama and the owner of the Abuelo Rum Company! I also got his contact information. I’m telling you this because not only is it awesome, but it shows how small Panama is and how important “people skills” can be in the business world. Just being kind and cordial with people can go a long way in getting connected and building an international network. I feel like that is a major lesson that is relatively impossible to teach in the classroom, and is an irreplaceable benefit of studying abroad.

 

~The next day we finally got to visit the main attraction, the Panama Canal~

First, we visited the Panamanian Railway which provides another option for shipping freight from one ocean to the other instead of by water. I was amazed at their efficiency and accuracy in regards to keeping track of the containers coming off the ships and going onto the rail cars as well as getting trains back and forth on basically the only railway of its kind. A 40 mile stretch of rail connects one ocean to the other and the Panamanian Railway trains only service the ports on either side. Instead of traveling hundreds or thousands of miles, the trains travel 40 miles multiple times a day. The specialized business and logistical processes that world trade breeds never cease to amaze me. After visiting the railway, we visited the Miraflores lock, the first lock that ships encounter when making Pacific to Atlantic transits. It lifts or lowers the vessels 54 feet, the most drastic distance of all three locks in the canal. I was so excited to actually see this century old process executed with modern day mega vessels. When the first containership entered the lock, I was not disappointed. The juxtaposition of the century-old lock with the modernly massive containership really cemented for me the sentiment that the engineering of the Panama Canal was decades before its time. It was a site that cannot be fully appreciated without the perspective of scale and enormity that actually being present at the canal brings.


~The next day we traveled to the Manzanillo International Terminal, or MIT and the Canal Expansion Site, on the Atlantic side of the canal~

MIT is essentially a mega port that has multiple cranes, all of which have the capacity to unload Post Panamax vessels, or vessels that are too big for the current locks, but will fit through the Canal’s expansion. It was here that I really started to wrap my head around the fact that a lot of the products I consume or purchase from large companies actually transit this exact port and the canal system in general. Anything from the shoes on my feet to the rice I ate for lunch may have transited the canal through the exact system right before my eyes. That epiphany really put the canal’s impact and importance into a personal perspective that I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life.


The Canal Expansion Site was awe inspiring to say the least. The sheer enormity of the new locks that will bear even bigger mega vessels was really hard to grasp. If anything, seeing the construction of the new locks in person was more of a motivator for me to return sometime in the future to see the expansion in its functional phase.

~The next morning, we gave our 20-minute presentation on our business proposition for our case study, bringing Panamanian Coffee to the US! Our audience was the rest of our classmates, our teacher, and two Panamanian business executives~

Our group stayed up all night preparing SWOT, CAGE, and financial analysis regarding the Panamanian coffee industry. I was very proud of how well we all came together to produce a presentable finished product that was seamless and actually plausible. We followed the original idea of exporting high-quality Panamanian coffee to the US, specifically Miami, while reinvesting a percentage of the income back into the Panamanian economy. After our presentation, I talked with one of the Panamanian executives about how realistic the business idea was. He really thought the idea had potential, but he told me something very interesting. We ended the presentation with the company mission statement, which was “Giving Americans a better tasting coffee, while giving Panamanians a taste of a better life.” He told me that I should find a different word besides Americans because all of the Central American countries, including Panama, consider themselves “Americans” as well. This fact hadn’t even occurred to me and it really highlighted how egocentric people from the United States can be. I’m glad he pointed out that nuance to me; it will help me to be more internationally aware when doing business in the future.

~The next day we traveled back to Panama City for our final two days in country. On Thursday we had another free day and on Friday we had our final exam and a nice final dinner in Cosco Viejo~

Our second free day was my favorite day of the whole trip. One other classmate and I took a flight from Panama City to David, and then took a bus into Boquete, which is the coffee capital of Panama. The entire day went perfectly! We arrived in Boquete around 10 am and waited for our tour guide, who was arriving to pick us up at 11am.The first thing I noticed when we stepped off the bus was how temperate Boquete was. It felt like a completely different country, far away from the hot and humid climate of Panama City. While we were waiting for our tour guide, we happened upon a man from the U.S working in a corner coffee shop. It was surreal to meet a man from Virginia in such an exotic town like Boquete. He told us that Boquete was one of the top retirement locations in all of Central America and that the Real Estate market was booming around the town. I kept that fact in mind when the tour guide arrived and showed us the coffee farm. The tour guide told me that the land taken up by the 100 acre farm was worth 10 million dollars, and that the coffee company owned 10 more farms just like this one. In other words, the coffee company owned around a billion dollars worth of real estate. Amazing! We also learned about the different types of coffee seeds, the harvesting processes, and the shipping processes of the farm. I’ll save the details, but just the fact that we were able to go all the way to Boquete and have such a unique experience in one free day highlights the flexibility and freedom that studying abroad brings. I can honestly say I learned just as much, if not more, on our free days in country, than I did from the scheduled lectures and meetings. The “seize the day” mindset guided me throughout the trip and because of that, I have the contact information of the President’s brother and a possible internship lined up with a coffee company in Boquete. These are just a few examples of how I was able to sharpen my networking and communication skills… more than I ever could have in a classroom. I often thought of the saying, “It’s not only about the grades you make, but the hands you shake.” This idea was personified on a daily basis in Panama and I think it’s a valuable lesson that I will be able to capitalize on in the future.


      Like I mentioned earlier, the last day in country hosted our final exam and a dinner in Casco. It felt great to portray all of the lessons we learned and consolidate them into a final test. I think it was the first final ex that I actually enjoyed taking! Finishing the exam definitely made our dinner in Casco all the more sweet.


So there ya have it! You’ve crossed the entire canal with me. You’ve read about all of my lessons, experiences, and reflections. I’ll be able to use all of the lessons I’ve learned going forward in the business world, and I have dozens of friends and contacts all over the country. Like I alluded to earlier, I have every intention of returning to Panama, whether its for an internship, a job opportunity, or simply to view the completed Panama Canal expansion! I fell in love with a place that I hardly even knew about four weeks ago, and I think that is part of the magic of studying abroad. That’s it from me, I hope you enjoyed the voyage across the isthmus as well as the view from the other side of the canal. And as always…

Steam ON!

-Jonathon

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DHL’s Extra X-factors

All aboard The Slow Steamer! I’m going to try my best to keep up with the high knots that this metaphorical boat is traveling and update everything more frequently from now on. Today’s meetings were much more logistics and supply chain driven. We visited CEVA logistics and DHL logistics. Because we visited both companies virtually back to back, we were able to juxtapose the strengths and weaknesses of each company that resulted from the differing approaches to logistics of two companies that virtually fill an identical niche. Both meetings were very productive but our visit to DHL really stood out to me. In my opinion, DHL has two X-factors over CEVA. More on those X-factors in a little bit…

Before I reveal DHL’s X-factors, I want to touch on a reoccurring theme that I’ve noticed within businesses here in Panama. Present in almost every company, some more than others, is the concept that a business, from international banking to international trade, is based off of people not profit, relationships, not retail, trust, not trust funds. This idea of putting the person first, whether it’s the client or the employee has been present in almost every business setting that we’ve visited. This is where DHL’s first X-factor comes into play. Nowhere was this type of atmospheric camaraderie more present than in the office space of the DHL distribution center. As we walked past cubicles and offices, led by our somewhat eccentric DHL representative, every employee seemed cheerful; everyone seemed excited, everyone seemed to feel that they belonged. I was excited about DHL as a company just as a result of seeing their enthusiasm and unity. Not to say that putting the customer or employee first wasn’t mentioned at CEVA, it actually was. The main difference was that DHL personified that idea and it was present in every employee we saw. At CEVA, the camaraderie was not as genuine or as tangible. There seemed to be a perfect balance of pep and prep at DHL. Even though everyone was easygoing, there was still an aura of professionalism that permeated the building. All the flowcharts, inspirational posters, and profit graphs demonstrated that DHL still retained its focus-driven approach to business.

Because we were in such a dynamic position to be able to juxtapose the strengths and weaknesses of each company, I decided to ask the head of the DHL office why a prospective client should chose DHL as opposed to a relatively smaller, more specialized competitor logistics company such as CEVA. I posed the question in such a way to relate it to my coffee idea. If I was a Panamanian coffee company looking to export coffee to the United States using a third party logistics company, why would it be in my best interest to chose DHL? His answer was very convincing. Before even accepting my order and taking me in as a client, DHL would solicit their network and be familiar with how to go about selling coffee in the US. They would make sure the coffee was FDA approved. Essentially, they would tailor their plan to maximize their service at the benefit of my company. I was thoroughly swayed by his tactful, insightful response and I believe I will have sufficient information to add DHL into my coffee master plan as the main supply chain provider that will transport the Panamanian coffee from Panama to the United States. More on my final plans later. All I’ll say is that the more I learn about the coffee industry here and around the world, the more I find that I really don’t know how expansive the market is. Having said that, everything seems to be falling into place nicely. 🙂

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DHL’s second X-factor revolves around a rather impactful statement made by the same head of the DHL office. In reference to the supply chain system that he oversees, he said something along the lines of “it isn’t necessarily how well DHL is able to get a product from producer to consumer that sets them apart (the practices are mostly the same for any logistical company) it is the ability to handle exceptions and unforeseen problems that give DHL it’s competitive edge. It is DHL’s awareness of the simple fact of the matter that out of the millions of shipments that the company executes, things do go wrong. Ships sink, trucks crash, warehouses get looted, and it is DHL’s adaptability and contingency that sets them apart. I feel that this concept is so instrumental because it can be applied to any walk of life. To always expect the unexpected and to always be prepared for the unforeseeable takes a certain level of coherency that can be rare in the workplace. It’s the type of X-factor that can set you apart from your colleagues and be an integral asset that pushes you up the corporate ladder, and for that reason I am grateful for his wisdom and shared experience.

It seems that I’m learning crucial information everyday that I would have never learned in a classroom and I’m putting that information in my pocket to use later when I enter the job environment. I guess that’s just one of the many reasons why I’m so happy to be studying abroad here and why I’d recommend it to any college student that is looking for that “extra X-factor”.

That’s it from me for today on the canal. Thanks for taking this voyage with me!

And as always,

Steam On!

-Jonathon

A World Wonder and a Wonder Of The World

All aboard The Slow Steamer!!!

Good to have you back on the decks of this proverbial ship. I’ve seen many sights and learned many lessons while traveling down the canal since my last post. Ironically, we haven’t even officially visited the canal or any of her locks yet. I think that just the fact that we are well into our second week here and we haven’t even seen the canal outright highlights how much more Panama has to offer besides the canal. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and been exposed to in the small amount of time that I’ve been here, and I have a hunch that we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.

I’ll try my best to tow you up to speed.

Since my last post, we’ve gone on an external excursion to the more tropical and rural parts of Panama’s Pacific coastal line. Last Thursday we traveled to Chitre, a small bustling town that reminded me of a Panamanian version of Fayetteville in terms of relative population size and business offerings. The town was bigger and more advanced than what I was expecting. Having said that, when we walked for ten minutes in either direction, we found ourselves on the outskirts of the city’s limits. Chitre seemed like the most hoppin place for miles around, the streets were clogged with cars, the sidewalks were populated by people, and I felt lucky to be there. It was a perfect opportunity to observe the average Panamanian consumer outside of Panama City. Most of the shops offered low quality knock offs that resembled well-known American brands. For example, I bought a PFG (Professional Fishing Gear) knock-off shirt for $15. Instead of saying PFG on the pocket, it was branded with the Goodyear logo. It even had the Goodyear blimp on the back! This shows that the Panamanian consumer is aware and willing to purchase products that seem to be house-hold American brands (like Goodyear).

When in Chitre, we stayed in an extravagant hotel-resort called Cubita. It was a beautiful, high quality resort complete with a pool, spa, and gym. I noticed two very interesting things about Cubita. One, it was located right next to a cluster of dirty shacks where a group of Panamanian families probably lived. However, I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t reached my phone camera over the eight foot barbed wired wall that separated the resort and the shack to see what was on the other side. The disparity was tangible and ever present. I was staying in what felt like a tropical getaway while families lived in shacks 50 feet away from my pampered, air conditioned room. That leads me to my second observation, in order to turn on any electrical device in our room; lights, television, hairdryer, you had to put your hotel card in a little slot by the door. This tactic was implemented to ensure that hotel patrons didn’t accidentally leave any of the electronics on in the room, saving electricity and helping the environment. I thought this was a fantastic, environmentally friendly idea that I’ve never seen in the States before. But here’s the kicker, on our way out of town, we drove past a landfill in which they were burning the trash to get rid of it. All of the environmentally friendly practices of Cubita were dwarfed by the amount of plastic that was being burned into the atmosphere and Ozone. I feel like this country is tripping over itself. There are small sectors of Panama that are highly advanced and on par with a first world country, but those sectors sit side by side with aspects of a country in a third world state.

After our stay at Cubita, we ventured deeper into the “interior” of the Panamanian coastal area to another resort called La Playita in Los Santos. This resort was completely different than Cubita; it wasn’t perfectly manicured, there was no pool or spa, and it was even more enjoyable of a place to stay. We could see a beautiful beach from our rooms, there was no Wi-Fi, and there were wild animals that strolled the grounds. I saw a domesticated deer, two emus, two very large lizards, chickens, dogs, three monkeys, and three beautiful macaw parrots! Most of the animals were technically wild, they were not owned by the hotel, but they were so exposed to human contact that they were used to us being there. I was able to ask the owner if there were any liability problems with having wild animals on the premises but her response was that there haven’t really been any problems and that everything there was, you guessed it, “tranquilo.” I thought to myself how rare a resort like this would be in the United States because of the proliferation and danger of lawsuits. The beach was pretty nice too!

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We made our way back to the City of Knowledge on Sunday and by the time Monday morning rolled around I was ready to get back into the routine of business meetings and informative lectures.

~On the first day back, we visited the Banco Nacional in the morning and the MMG Corporation in the afternoon. ~

From my visit to the Banco Nacional, I learned about an interesting dynamic of the Panamanian financial atmosphere. Because of the fact that their economy is based on the US Dollar, there is a complete absence of a central bank like the FED for the United States as well as an absence of a monetary policy. Even though the “Balboa” is the official currency of Panama, the US dollar is the main currency that is used here. The Balboa has an exclusive one to one parity with the dollar. The absence of a central bank made me very curious as to why there hasn’t been any devastating banking panics in Panama. From what I could understand, any time there was a threat of a banking panic, the US froze the accounts of Panamanian banks until the money was restored and the panic subsided. I was very privileged to learn about how different Panama’s financial climate is to the United State’s even though we both use the same currency, which results in an ideal and ripe business environment.

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As I mentioned earlier, we visited the MMG Corporation at the MMG tower in downtown Panama City. MMG stands for Morgan & Morgan Group and is a multimillion dollar conglomerate that offers banking, fiduciary, and litigation services. I was intrigued by this visit because of my propensity for international law and my aspirations for law school after my undergraduate career. We heard a lot about the business friendly tax structure in Panama. I learned some pretty helpful inside information. Like if you’re a Panamanian registered business, you only have to pay taxes of the sale of your product in the country that you garner your income in. Compare this with America’s tax policy where you have to pay taxes to the government of the country you garner your income in and to the American government. Panama’s tax structure can really help a business grow and expand without the constraint of being taxed twice for one sale. This is called double jurisdiction taxation. What a lucrative fiscal policy for doing business out of Panama! The MMG employee also told us something that will probably stick with me forever, “Evading taxes is not the same as avoiding taxes. One practice is highly illegal, and the other practice is completely within your rights.” This really opened my eyes to how many doors having a law degree opens for a businessperson. Who knew worthwhile reading the fine print could be! Having that type of knowledge about the tax system in Panama could easily save a company millions of dollars in full accordance with the law. This type of importance that lawyers can bring to a company is why I am so interested in the profession!

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Onto the next day!

~We visited two conduits for Panamanian and American business, the Panamanian-American Chamber of Commerce, or Panamcham, and the US Embassy in Panama~

The most interesting take away from the Panamcham visit was the CEO’s anecdote about a group of agro-investors that invested heavily in improving the production efficiency of a Panamanian red pepper farm in which they were able to increase production by using modernized hydro farming techniques to increased crop yields as well as increased crop vitality. I immediately applied that idea to my coffee prospect. Right now, everyone that I talk to about exporting more Panamanian coffee to the US is very pessimistic about the reality behind the idea because of the relatively limited production capacity of Panamanian Coffee farms. From what I’ve heard about the Panamanian agricultural industry in general, it seems that there is a lot of room for modernization and improvement of efficiency. What if we could apply modernized farming techniques to coffee farms in Panama, increasing production capacity enough to be able to export to select, high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s? Additionally, in my research, I found that freshly roasted coffee beans hold their maximum potency, vitality, and taste for only a week after roasting. What if we could use a streamlined supply chain system to deliver the Panamanian coffee to stores within a week of roasting to maintain peak levels of quality? I know all of this seems very far-fetched but I wanted to mention this because these are ideas that the lectures and presentations are sparking in my mind.

The US embassy was a surreal experience because, once we were through security, it felt like we had stepped onto a little patch of America inside of Panama. I thought that this is what it must have felt like for Americans working and living in Panama during the time when the US controlled the entire Canal Zone. A territory that consisted of the Canal waters and 5 miles inland on each side. After visiting the Embassy, I can understand why a group of Panamanians would want to declare that territory their own, which indeed resulted in the deaths of 21 Panamanians in 1964.

Finally, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned today!

~We visited the Latin American Headquarters of Proctor and Gamble and the Headquarters of the Wal-Mart equivalent in Panama, Super-99~

From my visit to Proctor and Gamble, I was able to get a better grasp of the enormity that results from a truly successful global business. Last year, their sales totaled upwards of $83 BILLION dollars. Supplying 5 billion customers with everyday personal care goods like shampoo and shavers necessitates a supply chain management system that rivals the best in the world. What stood out to me about Proctor and Gamble was their awareness regarding sustainability and development efforts and how they’ve realized that those factors are now a viable method in making better business as well as a better planet. They implement localized sustainability projects in the countries and areas that they operate in all over the world, from their Children Safe Drinking Water initiative, to sending supplies to natural disaster sites like Nepal. With such a big company and such a big impact, even the smallest percent of improvement in different sectors of their business can make big impacts on a global level.

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The best way to describe our visit to the Super 99 headquarters and distribution center would be inspirational. One of the co-owners, Mario Martinelli (a Panamanian Arkansas Alum), personally spoke with us and showed us around the main distribution warehouse. Even at his elderly age, Martinelli’s entrepreneurial spirit was as tangible as the goods that were being shipped out to his stores. Every answer to our questions was filled with enthusiasm; every story was lush with optimism. We spoke about how hard you must be willing to work for success and that anyone can achieve it if they want it bad enough. A lot of the time, I have struggle to grasp this concept, that anyone can gain success, but he made it seem possible. Not easy, but possible. I was grateful for his time and for our visit. Mario Martinelli’s legacy will stick with me wherever I go, long after he’s gone.

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I want to touch on one last thing, the header of my blog post. An overarching theme that has permeated this trip is the impact, or lack thereof, that the canal expansion will have on global supply chain. From what I’ve heard, it is coming to the forefront of many talks among global business leaders. As a result of the increase in ship capacity that will result from the expansion, it may be more cost effective for companies to ship through the canal when that previously wasn’t the case. However, there are still seeds of doubt or the possibility of over optimism surrounding the canal expansion. Some are not so convinced that it’s expansion will make that big of an impact, which could result in millions of wasted dollars by the Panamanian government. So, it seems that not only is the Panama Canal a “wonder of the world,” much the world is wondering about the Panama Canal. Maybe something will come down the canal in the coming days that will give me a better clue.

I commend you for getting down this far on the page and reading this much of my Panamanian ponderings. Thanks for that and as always…

Steam On!

-Jonathon

Panama’s Dark Secret

Welcome back aboard the Slow Steamer! A lot has come down the Canal since my last post. We’ve visited a local Panamanian University (USMA), we’ve experienced a Panamanian Mega-mall, a short talk from a Panamanian historian, and I’ve sparked an idea that I would like to share with you regarding Panama’s dark secret.

USMA, or the Universidad Santa Maria Antigua, is a prominent private college in Panama that has Catholic underpinnings. The school was populated with what seemed like children from affluent Panamanian families. BMW’s, Land Rovers, and generally newer cars populated the parking lots around the campus. During one of our lectures, we sat in on a class with students studying Hotel Management. Due to our presence, the lecture was about the history and demographics of Panama instead of how to successfully run and manage a Hotel in Panama. While the information presented in the lecture was intriguing, the most interesting information I garnered was from observing the behavior of the students in the class. The over-arching consensus here seems to be very “tranquilo” or relaxed, and that charecteristic was definitely prevalent among the students during the lecture. While the professor, who was incredibly animated no less, was presenting, all of the students had their phones on their desks and there was a persistent murmur of conversation throughout the class period. I thought to myself how different the classroom atmosphere was there than a class period in the Walton College. Although the class may have been more unruly due to the fact that they were being presented with information that they already knew (basic information about their own country), the dean of the school was in the class and their relaxed behavior still prevailed. It was interesting to see a real example of this “tranquilo” cultural characteristic right before my eyes. We also learned about the banking system, which is the second most prominent banking sector in the world behind Switzerland. I was intrigued to find out that Panama does not have a central bank with ties to the Government like the United State’s Fed. Because Panama uses the US dollar as its currency, if their banks run out of money, they can’t just print out more. The inflation rate and interest rate rely completely on the US economy and monetary system. Monetary policy does not exist in Panama, which makes for an interesting dynamic and advantage when it comes to banking.

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The mega mall was very large and it sported all the major worldwide brands from Nike to Rolex. It was so Americanized that I felt like I was in an American mall. While we were there, we visited a Super 99 in the mall, which is one of the biggest grocery store chains in Panama. Emmanuel, our Panamanian student guide who just graduated from the University of Arkansas, told me that the Panamanian government recently instituted price controls on food products in grocery stores, which triggered an interesting conversation. He told me that the government artificially lowered the prices of food products because there was a conglomerate of a few major grocery stores that were collectively inflating prices. I was interested to know if the price ceiling actually caused a shortage when the demand was greater than the supply, but Emmanuel told me that the increase in demand was actually curtailed by an increase in price of the other products offered at the store, which depressed any surmountable shortage.

The short presentation from a Panamanian historian named Guillermo was packed with enlightening information about Panama. The most interesting factoid was the statistic that seven out of ten Panamanian workers are not formally registered with the Panamanian government and are “informally employed.” They have no social security benefits; they don’t pay income taxes, and they don’t receive health care benefits. I was surprised to hear that the percentage was so high and that such a large amount of money was not being paid to the government because of the absence of taxation for those workers. If those workers were formally employed, the tax revenue for the government would be much greater. I had no idea this was such a relevant problem in Panama.

Before coming to Panama, I had never heard of Panamanian coffee. As an average American consumer, I was familiar with Colombian coffee but I only knew Panama for its canal. It turns out; Panama has a dark secret, literally and figuratively. That secret, in my opinion, is incredibly good coffee! The fact that Panamanian coffee has not gained more popularity in the United States had me flabbergasted. Why hadn’t I heard about Panamanian coffee before? With its superior taste and quality I was confused as to why it didn’t hold more market share in the United States. Here in Panama, one small cup of coffee only sets me back 60 cents but it tastes better than any Starbucks concoction I’ve ever tried. This got me thinking about the possibility of expanding Panamanian coffee exports to America. From what I’ve learned, this hasn’t already happened because the coffee farms cannot accomadate that type of increase in production. Next week, I’ll be having a meeting with the CEO of an up and coming coffee company in Panama to learn more about the market. This ties to my trip in Panama because as a part of the class criteria, we’ve been given a case study to research the viability and feasibility of interacting with the Panamanian Economy from a US company standpoint. My group’s case prompt is, as you might have guessed, an American Coffee company that is interested in doing business in Panama. This case study prompt has sparked a very interesting idea that I may use for my Honors Thesis. From what I’ve heard, most of the coffee harvesters are very poor and young… even children. They work in the highlands of Panama that is very undeveloped and most of the money that is garnered from coffee sales goes to the owners of the company. My idea is to see if those coffee companies could ever be convinced to enter into a joint venture with a company like Starbucks and sold Panamanian coffee at select locations in the US. In return for the increase in businesss, the workers of the coffee farms will be paid a higher wage agreed upon by both sides. Additionally, they could also market the Panamanian coffee in the US with a humanitarian approach. Showing the customer that each cup of Panamanian coffee that they buy is directly improving the quality of life of the people who picked the beans that brewed the coffee they are drinking. Americans will get to taste better coffee, and Panamanians in developing provinces will get a taste of a better standard of life.

We’ll see what comes down the canal next!

Steam On!

-Jonathon

Panamanian Perceptions

Welcome aboard The Slow Steamer once again. The travel process from Fayetteville to Panama City could be described as smooth sailing in almost every sense of the term except the literal one. Even though there we never actually set sail, there were no flight delays, no lost luggage, and no missed connections. Smooth sailing indeed. Conversely, going through Panamanian customs was far from customary. The customs official saw from my passport that I was born in Spain, and automatically assumed that my Spanish was that of a native speaker. Even though I’m nowhere close to being competent in the Spanish language, I managed to keep up and actually hold a Spanish conversation with someone other than one of my Spanish professors. This first-time positive experience was exhilarating and in the short amount of time that I’ve been here, I’ve finally started to actually see content that I’ve learned in the classroom applied to reality. That fact right there, actually living the lessons we are learning, is the principle reason why I am so excited for this trip. I can’t wait to learn a concept in our daily presentations then go out and see it implicated in the real world.

Previous to this trip, I was blind to the impact that supply chain systems have on our every day lives, as integral components of a global market. Now that I’ve started to become more familiar with how interconnected our markets are, I’ve developed more vigilance to the origins of different products everywhere I go. One good example that I experienced of how interwoven our markets are as a result of successful supply chain systems was a fruit drink I purchased on the way to the “City of Knowledge” (more on that later.) I bought a bottle of what I thought was a Panamanian fruit juice called “Aloe Vera Drink,” only to find out, post-purchase, that it was a product of Korea! So there I was, an American citizen drinking a Korean product that was purchased in a Panamanian grocery store. This got me thinking about the plethora of supply-chain, logistical, and international trade barriers that had to be overcome for my personal circumstance to even occur in the first place. It’s amazing to me how the advancement of supply-chain systems and global trade has allowed such international diversification of markets all over the world. I am very interested to learn about how instrumental the Panama Canal is to this type of diversification. I’m also curious to know what type of real-world consequences the absence of the canal would have on how globally diverse different markets would be without the trade feasibility that the canal brings.

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^I’m in the center with my Korean Aloe Vera Drink in my right hand

After my fruit-drink epiphany, our group arrived at our previously mentioned base-camp, the City of Knowledge. We all got settled and turned in for the night in preparation for a visit to the Innovation Center of the City of Knowledge and a tour of Panama City.

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When we visited the Innovation Center the next day, we were introduced to an entrepreneur named Alejandro. He uses the advantageous atmosphere and opportunity that the Innovation Center creates to get his tutor service start-up off the group. His idea takes an Angie’s List approach to tutoring service, matching registered tutors with viewable profiles and ratable performance categories to prospective pupils. What I took away from this presentation was that the idea itself wasn’t particularly unique, but the application of the idea to a new market segment was unique and that untapped market potential is what gives his start-up the potency to become a real company with real investment pull. From what I heard, the idea is a viable solution to a problem with relevancy, which gives plausible reason to invest in the company from a venture capitalist standpoint.

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The bus tour around Panama was very close to what I expected from my previous experiences in Guatemala. The most prominent observation from visiting Guatemala was the same as Panama; the flabbergasting disparity and proximity between the rich and poor classes is enough to take your breath away. Multimillion dollar high-rise apartments tower over shacks and huts right across the street, exquisite yachts are anchored right next to old wooden fishing boats, and Porsche SUV’s speckle roadways packed with public transportation buses that look like they could break down at any moment. Here in Panama, it seems that you are either very rich and are prone to live a life of narcissistic excess, or you are destined to skimp by for the rest of your life. I was surprised to learn that most of the owners of the most expensive cars, condos, and real estate in the city are not even Panamanian. This shows that even though Panama is quickly becoming one of the shining stars among the Latin American countries because of its instrumental canal, there is still much more economic and financial development that needs to take place before the overall standard of living rises to a level where that level of disparity is no longer so blatantly prevalent.

Tomorrow we will visit USMA, a Panamanian University, as well as the Allbrook Mall. Allbrook Mall is said to rival the size and prestige of the Mall of America, so I am looking forward to seeing more diverse products from diverse countries as a result of successful supply chain systems at work. I can’t wait to see what comes down the Canal next.

Steam on

-Jonathon

Panamanian Study Abroad Introduction

Hola and welcome aboard The Slow Steamer; a blog named after an emerging policy of many oceanic shipping companies in which they “slow-steam” or slow down the cruising speed of their vessels in order to lower the operating cost of shipping international cargo. The goal of this blog is to “slow steam” the plethora of experiences that I will have on this trip. In other words, I want to slow everything down by means of reflective writing to ensure that I fully exploit every learning opportunity that comes my way. I do not want to head home from this trip with no tangible reflection and nothing to show for my travels but a stamp on my passport and a Panamanian sun tan. Consequently, from this blog you can expect stories about my Panamanian travels, recounts of my experiences, and reflections about the lessons I learn as a result of my privileged exposure to everything from the Panamanian business culture to everyday Panamanian life. I’ve only been in the country for 16 hours and I already have a wealth of experiences and lessons to share with you. I’ll write my first legitimate blog post tonight in which I’ll recount my first impressions of Panama. I hope you enjoy the ride on The Slow Steamer, I can’t wait to see what comes down the Canal next.

Steam On!

-Jonathon