“This is a present reality, not a future dream,” said President of the Inter-American Development Bank Luis Alberto Moreno, as by video feed he proclaimed the start of the second “Outsource2LAC” conference in Medellin earlier today. O2LAC, as is known, attracted approximately 500 delegates from across the world, include strong representation from a dozen or so leading outsourcing-focused countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Dominating much of the discussion, especially in the networking lounges, was how to tap the expanding opportunities for sourcing into and out of Colombia. Over the last five years, this nation of over 40 million people has rapidly moved up the outsourcing value chain.
While the drive has so far been led by capital Bogota and the Caribbean city of Barranquilla, Medellin is rapidly catching up and is keen for the world to know it. “Medellin is emerging … it is coming on the scene very aggressively,” said Peter Ryan, head of IT Services Practice at business and technology analysis firms Ovum and one of the conference’s expert speakers along with our own Kirk Laughlin, Managing Director at NSAM.
The fact that Medellin is holding such a conference and the style in which it is doing it are strong signals to the outsourcing sector – signals of a city confident in what it has to offer
Dealing with Perceptions
The city’s progress is all the more impressive given the challenge of overcoming a reputation for violence and crime, a legacy of Pablo Escobar and his fellow traffickers in the Medellin Cartel, and managing perceptions remains a major challenge. “What they have to do here is do what Bogota did – get out there and overcome these challenges of perception and let the world know that Medellin is open for business,” said Ryan. The convention is a key opportunity to get that message out, Ryan added. “It’s crucial because it’s a small industry and people talk … and Medellin will really get on the map due to a conference like this,” he said. “The facilities are great, the organization’s good, the setup is good – they are hungry for it, now it’s the follow through.”
It’s a message that is certainly getting across for some first time visitors. “It’s a terrific city, I’m just blown away,” said David Raynor, a California based attorney looking for venture capital investment opportunities. “I was expecting the Medellin of the 80s, I’m impressed by how far it’s come. It’s clean, it’s well organized [and] it’s got a lot of agencies focused on creating the right environment for business.” For visitors from around Latin America, Medellin’s success in overcoming negative perceptions was one of the main reasons for attending.
“We came here to see how it is done, and how to put Haiti on the map as an outsourcing destination,” said Regine Vital from Digicell in Haiti. “We are a country that has a bad reputation just like Colombia, so there is a lot to learn here.” The lessons to be taken from Medellin’s success in establishing a thriving business environment out of a violence-ridden past is especially pertinent for conference attendees from countries now trying to develop an outsourcing sector in the midst of a security crisis.
“They ‘ve done a good job here of managing an internal campaign – of saying this is who we are, this is why we’re great – but they’ve also been very persistent in investing in media,” said Liliana Sanchez from Honduran trade promotion agency FIDE. “And of course it can’t be only words you have to have a backbone to what you’re saying, so I think it has also been putting in place different strategies to target these sectors.” These practices are something Sanchez hopes Honduras will also be able to apply. “It is not a matter of overlooking the risk factors, we’re not going to cover it up but I think sometimes our press focuses too much on the negatives, so I think we have a lot to learn from a marketing standpoint.”
However, the conference has not just attracted those hoping to learn from Medellin’s success, but also those hoping to profit from it. Nearshore Americas spoke to a number of businessmen and entrepreneurs from North America and Europe who were seeking new markets or local partners, all of them hoping to capitalize on the city’s tech wave, maturing markets and strong public/private sector collaboration.
For many of these vendors, the conference is a chance to seek first hand confirmation of the positive reputation Medellin has built and to see for themselves the opportunities on offer. “I’m here looking for other gateways into Latin America,” said Dennis Strong, Chairmen/CEO of management consultants 3SI. “And the fact that they’re having this event here is a signal that it’s ready for our exports.”
Both the fact that Medellin is holding such a conference and the style in which it is doing it are strong signals to the outsourcing sector – signals of a city confident in what it has to offer; opportunities for companies looking to get in at the beginning of what looks set to become a major regional success story and lessons for countries that want to walk the same road.