Expat Entrepreneurs In Panama’s Other Boom Town
Bethany Strong isn’t your typical Panama expat. She’s an example of what being motivated can lead to in a foreign country. Her days aren’t spent lounging in a hammock with an umbrella drink… She and her husband Cove are founders of a successful company.
Her days are spent working hands-on in the office, negotiating deals, and handling HR issues. She’s a mother to four boys and finds time to make stir-fry for dinner while also being a community liaison.
How does she manage all of this in a foreign country?
Bethany moved to Panama over 18 years ago from Northern California. Here she started a new life and a new family.
First, she overcame the challenge of finding bilingual education in a Spanish-speaking country and enrolled her boys in school.
Then she forged her own path. With Cove by her side, they started their own business called Fuertec, a security screen company in David (DAH-veed), in western Panama.
David is a booming commercial metropolis and the hub for all major industries in the Chiriquí province, including the transportation, agricultural, financial, and commercial sectors.
High-speed internet, reliable electricity, and strong infrastructure make David an excellent place to do business. For the same reasons, it’s an increasingly popular destination for expats.
The Pan-American Highway, which connects South, Central, and North America, runs through the city, making David the central port for imports and exports to and from Costa Rica, just 19 miles away. The highway also links all corners of Panama.
Capital of Chiriquí Province and the third-largest city in Panama with over 80,000 residents, David stands out in western Panama. Unlike other expat destinations like Boquete or the beaches along the Pacific coast, David is a commercial haven.
Residents of Chiriquí Province flock to David for all that it has to offer. If you want to go to a movie theater, David is the place. The same goes for shopping malls, upscale dining, international fast-food chains, car dealerships, nightlife, casinos, and international banks.
According to Bethany, “David has so many advantages for small-business owners.” David is the transportation, financial, and commercial hub of Chiriquí Province, which makes it an ideal location for entrepreneurs. Thanks to the city’s central location and closeness to the Pan-American Highway, Bethany and Cove are able to order and ship products to and from anywhere in the country.
“We have markets in Bocas del Toro, Panama City, and Puerto Armuelles. Every corner of the country is accessible from David, and the proximity to Costa Rica opens up the international market,” explains Bethany.
The benefits of doing business in David don’t end there. “There are plenty of workers and the city is primed for business,” Bethany shares. She believes these qualities make David a perfect place for innovative ideas and start-up businesses.
“New ideas are really what seem to work here,” says Bethany, as she mentions several other unique business ideas, ranging from Italian tiles to Spanish plastics. “Bring innovation from your home country,” she advises.
Bethany’s success with Fuertec and her involvement in the local community have given her better-than-average insight into what David and the surrounding areas are looking for and what they can accommodate.
Life isn’t just work for Bethany; it’s about home and family as well. She says that David is an excellent destination for families.
Her sons have better educational opportunities than they would in a smaller community, and she tells me that David’s neighborhoods are affordable and very family oriented. There are lots of activities for families in David, too. “The new Federal Mall offers a lot of options for all of us… there’s a movie theater, upscale shopping, and restaurants—all air conditioned,” Bethany adds.
She has spent time living in Boquete but enjoys the more “authentic Panamanian experience” that David offers.
That said, you won’t have trouble finding other foreigners here. In David—like in the rest of the world—expats tend to gravitate toward one another, forming small communities with shared backgrounds, interests, and experiences.
Some friends play horseshoes during the week while others meet for happy hour on the weekends or go to boxing class together in the mornings. Some go hiking or birdwatching. There’s no limit to the social activities possible in David.
Plus, David is an affordable city to live in. With such a large market, there’s plenty of competition, which benefits the consumer. Whether it’s the flooded rental market or the price of shower curtains, there are plenty of deals to be found in David.
The mix of expats, locals, and consumers from surrounding areas has led to an increase in the variety of available goods in the city. You can enjoy lunch at a local fonda for US$3 a person. The average price of a single movie ticket in the United States is US$9.57… in David you can see a movie and get a 32-ounce soda and a box of popcorn for just US$10.
Panama also offers a pensionado (retiree) discount to senior citizens. This discount often isn’t recognized in smaller communities but is easy to take advantage of in larger cities like David.
A couple who owns a home should expect to spend about US$1,300 a month in David.
David is hot and parking is a major stressor, but Bethany says that the nearby beaches make getting away easy. Whether it’s spending the weekend in Puerto Armuelles or watching her boys off-road through the hills of Boquete, there’s always a chance to refresh the mind and soul before heading back to the bump and grind of city life.
If you’re looking for a vibrant and growing city in Panama, David has your name on it.
Full-Time Panama Expat