ALL TOGETHER RISE

Colombia 2014 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Juan Gabriel Pérez, Executive Director of Invest in Bogotá, on the ins and outs of Colombia's prime economic hub.

In 2009, the World Bank named Invest in Bogotá the top investment agency among emerging economies. What did this international recognition mean to you and your work?

The award acknowledged our efforts to realize our main goal of contributing to the development and attraction of FDI into the city's economy. Our role includes involving social and private agents in boosting investment in the city, while maintaining a methodology that allows us to establish the strategic sectors for the development of the city and carry out intensive research in foreign markets to attract companies to Bogotá. In fact, much of the business activity we have attracted came directly through such initiatives. The rest came from other channels, such as our website.

How would you assess Bogotá's competitiveness and the incentives that exist to attract FDI?

In the World Bank's Doing Business report, Bogotá climbed from 12th position to third last year for competitiveness, consolidating our work and the commitment of the city to increasing the level of competitiveness every year. We have to keep in mind that these rankings take into consideration a wide variety of elements ranging from legal stability to ease of obtaining permits and public services. Currently, Bogotá is among the top eight cities in Latin America in terms of attracting foreign investment and doing business, and our goal is to rank among the top five.

“Sectors evolve and Bogotá is currently seeking its true vocation as a city."

Which of the economic sectors offer the greatest opportunities?

Sectors evolve and Bogotá is currently seeking its true vocation as a city; we put much emphasis on the services industry, which, along with commerce, represents 75% of the city's GDP—without commerce the percentage is about 62%. In terms of services, our priorities are related to IT, the oil and gas industry, services that generate value-added, and creative industries, among others. For example, Bogotá currently invests considerably in new technologies applied to public transportation and is in the lead at the regional level in the implementation of a sustainable and environmentally friendly public transport system.

How does Bogotá benefit from growth of the oil and gas sector at the national level?

This is definitely a sector that has been very important for our agency; we have taken part in several international oil and gas events in Aberdeen, Houston, and other cities. The importance, for example, of being in Aberdeen, Europe's oil capital, is that the UK is the second top investor in the Colombian oil industry, and such events allow us direct contact with other international players in the industry, such as Australia and Germany. Our role is to attract them to Bogotá and ease their landing in the city and the country in general.

What is your evaluation of the city's workforce?

Bogotá has the largest number of higher education institutions (115) in Colombia, and approximately 100,000 people become part of the qualified workforce every year in this city. Additionally, 55% of the country's PhDs are earned in Bogotá, and 30% of those 100,000 people graduate here. Therefore, Bogotá is a highly attractive city for new companies in any sector that requires qualified employees. One of the challenges is to strengthen the education sector in terms of orientating it toward the future industrial needs of the city such as IT and the need for international standards for those earning qualifications in this field. In this context, we work closely with the private sector to organize so-called “employment roundtables." For example, we think that business process outsourcing (BPO) is a sector with much potential in the city, and we pursue activities that identify human capital for this sector. Moreover, we need to reinforce value-added within the city's human capital in terms of new technologies.

What is the potential of Bogotá as a regional hub for the food and agribusiness industry?

In this sector the potential lies in the region of Cundinamarca, which surrounds Bogotá. We approach it as a city-region. We implement strategies that identify the strategic sectors at the regional level, of which this is one. In this context, Dole Food, the fruit and vegetable multinational, has announced the biggest investment in the Colombian agribusiness industry of the past five years; an $18 million processing plant that will directly employ 80 people. Therefore, we work on building Bogotá's profile of a regional hub, and on underlining its international profile to globalize the industry and its logistics capacity—Bogotá's airport handles the largest volume of cargo in South America.

What role can biotechnology play in the further economic expansion of the city?

Bogotá's main features are entrepreneurship, top-quality higher education institutions, and innovation—we are the fifth most innovative city in Latin America. At the end of 2013, we hosted the first Latin American biotechnology event that brought together over 200,000 specialists from this sector. Biotechnology's main characteristic is its transversal impact; it can apply to food and agribusiness industries, as well as to the health sector. There have been some investments and initiatives in this sector not only in Bogotá, but also in Colombia, and we want to channel those efforts through the city and position Bogotá as a regional hub, while creating synergies with other countries and companies.

What are your main objectives as the new Executive Director of Invest in Bogotá?

This institution has matured over the years, and as the country's identity has evolved—so too has the challenges it presents. We are currently in the process of identifying the city's real vocation and the most strategic sectors for Bogotá's economy in the long term. Infrastructure remains one of the key challenges and we work on the quality of the human workforce and on adding value, transforming sectors, and making them more competitive at a domestic and international level. For example, the Bogotá Metro project represents the best example of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead; it requires an urban transformation, and such a major project will attract foreign investment from large companies and contribute to positioning the city as a regional hub. Invest in Bogotá embodies the belief that we can open new markets and sectors in the near future thanks to the image the world has of the city, which today is extremely positive and promising. It is important also to further strengthen collaboration between industries and players in the private sector, so they pursue contacts abroad as a united entity to sell the city itself.

What makes Bogotá a unique place for working and living?

We are involved in a city-branding strategy that focuses on identifying the main advantages of Bogotá. We are looking to other major metropolises such São Paulo and Santiago, which offer good examples for us to better understand our unique advantages. We have a city with a strong commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly transportation, such as bicycles. For example, we have over 340 kilometers of cycling lanes and are promoting more efficient transportation through a comprehensive and integrated system that aims at reducing pollution and emissions. Additionally, we are one of the top cultural capitals in Latin America.

Bogotá currently accounts for 25% of Colombia's GDP. What is your vision regarding the evolution of this percentage over the medium term?

The reality of Bogotá is that of Colombia itself, and although we have managed to remain slightly above the national average, our unemployment rate is just slightly lower and our GDP growth slightly above that of the country overall. We believe that we can grow GDP by around 4% to 5% over the next few years, and that the purchasing power of the city's inhabitants will rise along with that of most middle-class citizens. Bogotá is a clear example of how the country evolves; there are increasing numbers of tourists arriving, investment in the hospitality sector is growing, and the number of SMEs is rapidly expanding (today, there are above 300,000 companies in the city), as is that of multinationals with a presence in Bogotá. The city will definitely continue to play a vital role at the national and economic level in the years to come.

© The Business Year - January 2014