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Italians flock to Miami, and prosper

19 october 2011, 15:27
Chasing the American dream, thousands of Italian entrepreneurs have flooded Miami in recent years and despite the country's ongoing economic woes are thriving in niche luxury markets, AFP reports.

"For me, there was no (economic) crisis," said Tommaso Cardana, a distributor of kitchen appliances who immigrated here in 2000.

Cardana's Tomson Hospitality Boutique has grown rapidly in the last four years, boosted by strong demand for top-of-the-range kitchen-ware for swanky restaurants, the 36-year-old businessman told AFP.

Over the last decade some 20,000 Italians have arrived in southern Florida to become the fastest-growing European community in the region.

Amid a global economic slowdown, a clan of entrepreneurs in their 30s have been able to not only sustain their businesses but make them grow.

This is tempting younger newcomers fresh out of college, many of whom prefer their prospects in the United States and are happy to make ends meet in Miami's bustling restaurant scene rather than just stay home.

"Graduation does not help you find a job today in Italy," said Marcia, 24, who left Rome four months ago and is now waiting tables on Miami Beach.

Italian businessmen say the huge Latino community in southern Florida and close links to Latin America are key to maintaining the strong luxury market that respects the tagline "Made in Italy".

"Many high-end luxury products do not function under the classic economic rules of supply and demand," Gianluca Fontani, president of Italy America Chamber of Commerce Southeast, told AFP.

Despite the lagging economy, "many affluent buyers still exist, and drive this market regardless of the general economic trends, helping the luxury Made in Italy' products to remain at the forefront of the luxury market," he said.

From outside the United States, customers come to Miami from Central and South America to find Italian luxury brands.

"We have seen a lot of cases where people living between Miami and Latin America use Miami as their shopping destination and furnish their homes outside the US, appreciating the Italian style and design," Fontani said.

-- 'So bureaucratic, so impossible' --

Giampiero Di Persia, who heads the Poltrona Frau Group Miami, which has become a market leader in high-end furniture and accessories, said the growth of luxury stores has been helped by strengthening currencies in Latin America.

The headquarters of top-name brands including Bulgari, Ferragamo, Fendi are all being moved here, noted Persia, whose own company will soon launch its first showroom in the country.

Around Miami Beach it is becoming as common to hear Italian being spoken as it is to hear Cuban-accented Spanish in Little Havana.

Many of the immigrants are first-generation families, unlike their compatriots in the larger Italian communities in New York or Chicago who arrived half a century or longer ago.

"I came to Miami 22 years ago... though I wasn't speaking either English or Spanish, only Italian," said Graziano Sbroggio.

Sbroggio, who got his start running a restaurant called Tiramisu, is now CEO of the Graspa Group, which owns seven restaurants and employs some 450 people in the Miami area.

"In the United States, always, a young person has a great idea, it will be tough initially... but you can bring it into the market, whatever you want to do, you can achieve it," he said.

In Europe, "it's so difficult, so bureaucratic, so impossible, that people give up."

Some entrepreneurs, like Nicola Carro, who came to the United States in 2005 with his twin brother Fabricio and is now executive chef at the top restaurant Quattro, are looking to expand regionally.

"Now is a good time to expand into Latin American markets; that's why we are opening a restaurant in Mexico City," he told AFP.

Architect Greta Milani, the wife of kitchen appliance king Tommaso Cardana, explains how she embarked on a completely different type of opportunity this year, becoming an illustrated children's book author.

"What we have achieved here in five years, would take a lifetime or many generations in Italy," her husband told AFP. So, would Milani ever return? "Go back to Italy?" she replied. "No, not now."

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