By Kirk Laughlin
Sykes, one of the largest contact center providers in the world, has chosen Barranquilla, Colombia to launch its newest Latin America site – quietly putting the framework together for a 500-person center to open in the Spring of 2012.
Nearshore Americas met with Enrique Villa, Colombia Country Manager on the ground in Barranquilla last week, where he described why this easy-to-navigate city of a little over 1 million people has become a natural fit for Sykes. “We explored Bogota, Medellin and Barranquilla… and we quickly realized Barranquilla has a very good English pool and will ramp up well for our needs,” he said.
Villa pointed out that the Barranquilla site is intended to mirror the Sykes operation launched in El Salvador in 2004. The firm employs over 1,500 agents in that country and another 3,500 in Costa Rica.
Sykes clearly views Colombia as strategically valuable, given its rapidly growing economy and strong positioning as a center to support customers in other parts of the region. “The Colombian people are very friendly and they have a natural affinity to perform customer services,” said Villa, who himself is a Bogota native. “This nation is filled with very creative people.”
The city’s longstanding role as a trading port has stimulated exposure to other cultures and languages – explaining its obvious openness to internationalization
Barranquilla continues to put the pieces together to become a solid sourcing destination in the Northern region of South America. Last year global BPO player Sutherland Global Services established a presence in the city, joining several other Colombian firms with growing operations – such as Bilateral , Transcom and AXS Americas.
The city is often described as ‘industrial’, but that label does not do it justice. The reality is the city’s economic base is surprisingly diverse, supporting a thriving life sciences sector, mining, agri-business, international trade (having one of the largest ports in the entire continent) and of course BPO. Also, the city is surprisingly verdant – especially in the northern commercial and residential sections.
Barranquilla’s longstanding role as a trading port has stimulated exposure to other cultures and languages – explaining its obvious openness to internationalization. “We have an immigrant background and we have always been connected to the world because of our past,” said Tatiana Orozco, Director of ProBarranquilla, adding that in a recent poll, a total of 98% of residents indicated a favorable view toward foreign direct investment, which rated higher than other major cities across Colombia. She credits Barranquilla Mayor Alejandro Char as consistently being focused on attracting FDI. “Mayor Char was among the first to welcome Sykes as it examined the city,” she said.
Villa candidly pointed out that unlike Colombia, Argentina’s call center industry is in serious decline. He repeated a widely held view that Argentina has shed close to 10,000 call center jobs in the last few years. “The BPO and call center industry is just not a priority for the government,” he said. Sykes effectively fled from Argentina starting at the end of last year – citing fast escalating costs and a generally unfavorable business environment. It sold all of its operations and no longer operates in the country.
Sykes has decided to pursue a ‘single enterprise free trade zone’ designation. This will enable the firm to take advantage of FTZ status, while not actually setting its operation up physically in Barranquilla’s pre-designated free trade zone area. The process to obtain the ‘single enterprise’ designation takes up to six months, thus explaining why Sykes will not officially open until the Spring of next year. The firm is in active discussions with two key clients about intentions to use Barranquilla for customer service delivery.
Villa added that the head of corporate security for Sykes was completely satisfied with the level of personal safety in and around Barranquilla (which is less than two hours from the internationally popular resort city of Cartegena), giving his blessing earlier this year.