The once sleepy Central American nation is experiencing unprecedented growth thanks to an influx of American retirees, investment from other Latin American countries and the $5.25-billion expansion of the 93-year-old Panama Canal, which will double the canal system's shipping capacity by 2014.
To land projects in Panama, Gates forged a partnership with Cocige, one of Central America's largest construction companies, helping American and European companies looking to expand into Panama navigate the permitting process. The Gates-Cocige partnership offers companies the peace of mind of working with an American-based contractor and the expertise of individuals who understand the Panamanian system.
Today, Gates-Cocige is working on four projects: A 24-story hotel in downtown Panama, a 1,500-acre resort community on a remote island, a 150-acre marina and resort and a 400,000-sq.-ft. office building and hotel in downtown Panama. Gates spends one week a month in Panama, but he doesn't mind the commute to the second-largest free trade zone in the world. "You can get there quicker than you can get to Tallahassee."