By Luke Bujarski
Before heading over to the UN General Assembly, President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla took the morning to engage investors at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. In addressing those lining up for a closer look at what the “Rich Coast” has to offer, Madame President left much of the talking around investment opportunities up to her senior delegation. Of course, the group would not have been complete without Mr. Jose Rossi, President of CINDE Costa Rica’s renowned investment promotional agency in charge of promoting the country as the “best export platform in the Western Hemisphere.”
Indeed, if anything can be said about CR’s promotion strategy it’s FREE TRADE – Free trade agreements and free trade zones specifically. “As of August 1st and our signed FTA with China, we now have nine official agreements that tightly connect 43 percent of our GDP to global industry value chains,” expressed Mrs. Anabel Gonzalez, Minister of Foreign Trade.
Amidst the crowd of current and would-be investors including Medtronics, Panduit, and L3 Communications, heavy hitter Patricia Cronin, IBM’s General Manager for Global Technology Delivery spoke on behalf of Costa Rica’s relatively small, yet talented labor pool. “Our decision to locate in Costa Rica in 2004 went above and beyond our expectations, and we have now initiated plans to expand with a new global delivery center that will add an extra 1,000 to our already 1,200 existing professionals in Costa Rica.”
IBM wasn’t the only tech firm voicing out on Costa Rica’s ability to deliver on technology services and innovation. Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Possible Worldwide, an interactive media firm and subsidiary of advertising mogul WPP, showcased the latest marketing applications coming out of their delivery center in Costa Rica. Among the highlights was a top 50 iPhone app “Blendr,” a GPS-driven social networking tool that helps you connect in real time with like-minded folks at conferences and events. In a face-to-face chat, Trevor also mentioned the need to be in other LatAm countries – specifically Mexico and Brazil – but would anticipate an “uphill climb” compared to their positive experiences in CR since 2005.
Yet, amid the fanfare and talk-up around impeccable education rates, shiny incentives and a streamlined administration, more than one attendee expressed apprehension over market saturation and scalability. In a final Q&A session, VP of Infosys Sandeep Dadlani, commented that “[Infosys] is very serious about Costa Rica, but we also like to expand with scale.” In her response, Minister of Trade Gonzalez stressed “transparency” and the full commitment on the part of CINDE and the government to ensure a “steady pipeline” of talent.
Site location guru Ann Harts of Hickey and Associates was cautious about high costs and availability of real estate in San Jose, but noted that the Costa Rican market remains strong. Likewise, these and other hurtles have not deterred smaller companies like contract manufacturer Micro to prefer Costa Rica over markets like Mexico. “We’ve looked at Mexico, but the social unrest there frankly scares us, so we like Costa Rica,” explained Micro Head of Sales Frank Semcer.
To this, President Chinchilla reminded the audience that Costa Rica did away with its military to focus on education and the economy instead of “preemptive wars.”