By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel
It’s the biggest investment yet by a Chilean company in the United States.
When the deal closes for Chile’s Banco de Credito e Inversiones, or Bci, to buy City National Bank of Florida for $882.8 million, it will be the largest outlay ever from that relatively small South American nation in a U.S. business, Bci Chief Executive Lionel Olavarria told the Sun Sentinel.
The investment underscores the strength of Chile’s economy, known as the most developed in Latin America. It also portends more to come, as Chilean firms look beyond their competitive market of 17 million people and see greater Miami — with its strong Hispanic roots — as the logical gateway into the U.S. market, Olavarria said.
Chile’s Atton hotel group, for example, plans to invest $55 million to open its first U.S. hotel in Miami’s Brickell area in 2015, Gov. Rick Scott said last month during a trip to Chile’s capital, Santiago.
Olavarria said that, pending regulatory approval expected by early 2015, Bci intends to expand City National’s services for small- and mid-size firms. It will operate under the City National name and keep the same management team. The company has no plans to expand the branch network for the short term.
City National has 26 branches open, including offices in Boca Raton, Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and other cities in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Two more branches are to debut this year.
Since Chile re-established democracy in 1989, its market-oriented economy has been growing at a strong clip, up nearly 5 percent per year, stoked by exports of fish, wine and metals.
Chile was the first South American nation to share a free-trade agreement with the United States, starting in 2004. The World Economic Forum ranks it tops among Latin American countries in global competitiveness.
Other major Chilean investors in South Florida include aviation group LAN, which long has run its global cargo hub at Miami International Airport. LAN just merged with Brazil’s TAM to form LATAM, Latin America’s largest aviation group, with more than 300 aircraft, 53,000 employees and service to two dozen nations.