(Southeast reporter Natalie Keith contributed to this article.)

As GlobeSt.com reported last month, Dominican and Florida business leaders have joined forces to form the Dominican-American Business Initiative. The design of the group, which was formed at a May 12 meeting between leaders of the two countries, is to foster real estate and other business ventures between the US and the Dominican Republic. The group was formed in light of the new Central America-Dominican Republic-United States Free Trade Agreement, which becomes effective this month. Under the agreement, tariffs and trade restrictions will be eliminated over the next several years. DABI is being spearheaded by attorney Jeffrey Siskind of Siskind Legal Solutions of South Florida LLC. Siskind’s family built the Jarajua Hotel in 1988 and later sold it to Marriott. It now operates as the Renaissance Jarajua Hotel and Casino. Last month, Siskind invited the Dominican Secretary of State, Joaquin Geronimo, to speak before South Florida business leaders and discuss the potential for growth. Later that month, Geronimo sat down for an exclusive interview with GlobeSt.com. The interview was conducted through interpreter Lena Ciccone, a civil engineer and expert in her own right on Dominican real estate matters.

GlobeSt.com: You are already in a growth mode. How much has the construction sector generally grown?

Geronimo: The construction sector has increased in the past few years very significantly–over 10%. So we see the possibility of increasing even more since the Free Trade Agreement and the infusion of both foreign capital and local investors who have expressed their willingness to invest in our country. In fact, in the first trimester of this year, construction increased to 31% of the GNP.

GlobeSt.com: How do you see the mission of DABI?

Geronimo: The purpose was to gather a lot of investors–especially US investors–to facilitate their business here in the Dominican Republic.

GlobeSt.com: Can you break down the potential growth by real estate sector?

Geronimo: The most recent numbers we have are from a 2002 survey conducted by a non-governmental institution. It focused on two main cities, Santo Domingo and Santiago. At the time, it projected 1.4 million sf of retail space–in small and medium plazas and big malls. We had 1.1 million sf of office.

GlobeSt.com: What about on the residential side?

Geronimo: For residential units in those cities at that same period there were 6,184 new units already built and 3,355 were under construction. That progress was interrupted from 2003 to 2004 due to the economic crisis we went through. But as of the middle of last year, this sector started to recuperate as the result of the stabilization of our economy.

GlobeSt.com: How much growth do expect in the hotel arena?

Geronimo: We expect the lodging sector to grow by 20,000 more hotel rooms in the next year. We are gaining a lot of luxury resorts now that we didn’t have before. We had only one famous one but now we are developing three more very exclusive resorts. One is Cap Cana and the other is the Westin Rokoki.

GlobeSt.com: What countries are contributing capital?

Geronimo: In the area of tourism, the major investor is Spain, but lately we have had a lot of American, Canadian and Mexican capital that is being utilized right now in that sector. GlobeSt.com: Given the recent economic slump you mentioned, is this the time to be making investments in the Dominican Republic? Geronimo: It certainly makes sense since we are currently in a very good economic position, a stable, growing economic position. It is the right time to create those channels for investment here.

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