El Valle: “The Best Place in Panama to Start a Business”

El Valle is the best place in Panama to start a business today. That’s according to Michael Ducharme. The 31-year-old Ontario native is something of a serial entrepreneur and has ventured into everything from the sauna building industry to teaching yoga.

Michael scoured Panama from top to bottom, searching for the perfect place to open his yoga business. In the end, El Valle was a clear winner. He opened Yoguini Spa and began teaching yoga as a tool for obtaining wellness, even offering free lessons to underfunded public schools and in public parks.

Says Michael, he chose El Valle because there are “more opportunities here than anywhere else,” adding that El Valle is “incredibly comfortable, breathtakingly beautiful, and extremely close to everything.” Plus, he adds, the operating and living costs here are a fraction of what they are in Panama City. And Michael says land in El Valle can be found for as little as $50 to $100 per square meter.

“The market isn’t oversaturated, so entrepreneurs can easily find a product or service to launch that is still new to this area.” Michael gives some good examples: El Valle is home to one of the nation’s best-known crafts markets…but there are no shops here specializing in selling art supplies. “The town also lends itself perfectly to romantic horse-and-carriage rides but no one is doing that yet,” he adds. And considering the fact that El Valle is one of the world’s largest inhabited craters, why not offer hot-air balloon rides?

Of course, not all businesses need be quite so extravagant: “This Valley could easily be the hiking and mountain-biking capital of Panama, but there is no sporting goods store here. The Valley is a favored place for weddings, but there isn’t yet a proper beauty salon. There are expats here from 20 different countries, but no bookstore, no dry cleaners, and no movie theater…I could go on and on,” he says.

As for timing—it couldn’t be better. The Panamanian Government is stepping up the promotion of El Valle, and has named it “Destination of the Month” for nearly three months running. Expats are increasingly more involved in the community, and organizing everything from recycling drives to opera nights. Michael recently represented El Valle at Panama’s International Tourism Fair, where he met many national and international tour operators gearing up to bring groups into El Valle. “That means even more potential revenue for entrepreneurs,” he says.

Despite all this growth, Michael’s new life is so tranquil and fulfilling, he considers himself retired. He has one staff member, a charming and committed Panamanian woman named Yulisa. He doesn’t fill his days with back-to-back appointments, insisting that each person is different and that each massage or treatment should last as long as necessary to meet the individual’s needs.

Somehow, he finds time to be active in the El Valle Chamber of Tourism and to help his brother promote Panama to worldwide investors. With excellent wireless Internet service, he is even able to assist in the design and sale of health products and saunas. “But this is no longer the focus of my life,” says Michael.

Despite his laid-back attitude toward promoting his center, Michael has plenty of willing customers eager to try his unique system of healing yogic massage, take a power yoga/martial arts class, or sample his healthy spa meals.

The opportunities in El Valle stretch far beyond the tourism industry,” says Michael. “And the foreign entrepreneurs that have moved here have enjoyed an extremely positive response.”

Editor’s note: Whether you want to start a business, live, invest, or retire in Panama…then the Live and Invest in Panama Conference 2011 has you covered. If you couldn’t make it…the next best thing is to listen in on every presentation and expert session that will take place in Panama. Here’s how.

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