In the last year the U.S. Dollar has fallen dramatically in value against the British Pound and the Euro. International travelers hoping to ride the currency shift are spending more money in the States, and some in Arizona are hoping foreign investors will do the same. From Phoenix, Tony Ganzer reports.
“Okay Stone House, we’re entering the first phase of Stone House,” a woman says laughing, reminiscent of one of those celebrity home bus tours you find in Hollywood .
But these home sites south of Tucson are being shown to a group of investors, and business partners mainly from Europe .
“The homes range from 3000 to 4000 square feet…565 to 650 is the price range,” the guide continues.
Prospective buyers and foreign sellers from Russia to France are comfortably seated in a massive tour bus. On this day they’re criss-crossing Southern Arizona’s sun-baked landscapes seeing housing developments, golf courses, and anything else foreign investors may want a piece of.
“We are a loosely-knit organization of companies from Scottsdale down into Mexico to try to bring foreign investment to Southern Arizona during a time of heavy-duty financial crisis,” says Carl Bosse, a developer and director of the Southern Arizona Development Coalition.
He says most of the people on the tour are business partners who will sell Southern Arizona ’s investment opportunities abroad. He teamed with the Honorary German Consul of Phoenix to hold seminars across Europe in February, in hopes of attracting interest.
“I’m private enterprise–if this doesn’t work it’s my money, I lose my potatoes. We’re taking a big gamble,” he says.
The tour bus stops at one of Bosse’s developments at day’s end. Business people, local elected officials, and prospective investors talked shop around a Mexican mariachi band and catered food.
“Maybe we will invest– maybe home sites. Put a little money in because of the rate between the Euro to the Dollar,” says prospective investor Hugo Hoffman, a former eye surgeon, and now a snowbird—meaning he comes to Arizona for 70 degree winters or conventions, and leaves for the summer. He owns property worldwide and is selling much of it, but decided to keep his Arizona home.
“Other people in Europe should know more about Arizona . Everybody knows Florida , you know. They know nothing about Arizona,” he says.
“There are huge amounts of money flowing in each year from Germany alone into Florida,” says Bernard Otremba-Blanc, the Honorary German Consul for Phoenix.
“Our intention is to get a piece of that pie,” he says.
Otremba-Blanc is a good friend of Hofmann’s. Neither man is openly disparaging Florida, but the investment initiative’s slogan says it all. Arizona , das bessere Florida , or Arizona , the Better Florida.
“There is two categories of people at the meeting. Dr. Hoffman is a snowbird, and he’s expressed interest in maybe buying one more property down in Tubac as an investment,” he says. “Category 2 is the folks that are supposed to promote our products overseas. These are our affiliates.”
Otremba-Blanc is a business consultant in his own right, but his involvement makes sense from his honorary consul perspective, as well. Germany is Arizona ’s top foreign investor.
“You start with Germany which is over $2 Billion annually in investments. Japan is second at almost $2 billion. The UK , Netherlands , Canada all make out the top 5,” says Jan Lesher, the director of the state’s Department of Commerce.
Lesher says her office is seeing more and more groups of investors heading into the U.S., but those businesses aren’t looking specifically at Arizona . Martin Hausner, is an exception to that. He’s CEO of Schletter Inc, a subsidiary of a German solar company.
“We went here for a business meeting and we sat in the pool and we drank a beer, and we said, ‘Why we are not here?’” he says chuckling.
Hausner has only been in the States for a little more than 2 months, but he studied the U.S. Market and moved to Arizona with three colleagues to tap the potential of the solar industry in the state. He says ultimately in 5 years or so, he’d like to leave the company in American hands.
Another visitor on the Southern Arizona investment tour was Ernst Olshowka, who is Polish, but lives and works in Hamburg , Germany. He’s a musician, and realtor, and he paid his own way to see the Arizona ‘s opportunities.
“I think in the first place, it’s something like adventure. America is the place where you can make it,” he says.
The prospect of owning a piece of the American West appeals to Olshowka and many international investors. And as long as the Euro’s value stays high, it seems these folks represent the latest in search of the American Dream.