HELPED OVER 700 COMPANIES

Colombia 2019 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Maria Jose Vengoechea, Executive President of the Chamber of Commerce, Barranquilla, on the region's unique characteristics, new partnership programs, and remaining relevant to the business community.

Can you please summarize what are the primary sources of economic growth seen in Barranquilla, and how they differ to other regions of the country?

In our region, the four growth pillars are consumer confidence, the high rate of new business growth, the increase in hotel occupancy, and the highest levels of per capita public investment in the country. The Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce has always promoted the importance of having an attractive business ecosystem in both Barranquilla and the Atlantic Province. In terms of statistical business growth, we have witnessed in Barranquilla the opening of 17,642 new business units in 2018. This represented a significant increase of 14.3% from 2017, when there were 15,430 new business units. This figure far exceeds the statistics recorded in the same period in Bogotá (4.9%), Antioquia (1%), Valle (7.5%), Santander (-4.5%), and the national rate of 0.8%.

Which services and support programs offered by the Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce are most in demand by national and international companies looking to open operations in Barranquilla?

Our portfolio contains a selection of products and services segmented for our entrepreneurs according to their needs and the needs of their businesses. I specifically want to mention our “cluster” strategy, which personalizes our approach with each industry and sector. In this context, our chamber has developed 36 projects during the last eight years. We have helped over 700 companies and invested both our own and third-party resources with more than COP18 billion (USD5.3 million) in business projects. We offer our clients different training and consulting programs with global firms such as IDOM, Cluster Development, Competitiveness, IKEI, Dinalog, STC, and others. Finally, we are in constant collaboration with partners from relevant ecosystems such as universities, local and national government entities, and international organizations such as the IDB and CAF.

How have partnerships helped CCB attract new investments to Barranquilla?

With Innpulsa Colombia, we are assisting our “logistics” clusters to vertically integrate with their supply chains as a strategy to pursue international markets. With the program “Productive Colombia,” we have launched the “Fabricas de Productividad” program, which benefits 150 companies in the Caribbean. We are working with city hall, the governor of Atlántico, Procolombia, and other institutions to promote the city as a destination of foreign capital. In 1Q2019, we secured 12 new installation projects representing USD92.2 million in investments and 350 formal jobs, according to statistics from ProBarranquilla.

In 2019, over 270,000 companies were assisted by the 57 Chambers of Commerce in Colombia. Could you elaborate specifically on the numbers for the Barranquilla Chamber and how they balance between national companies and international companies?

We strive to offer strategic advice to facilitate the challenges that entrepreneurs face. Some of our achievements from 2018 include making 1400 contacts during the global entrepreneur week; holding 75 professional workshops; assisting 467 businesses; advising 876 executives; and founding 78 accelerated ventures. We also saw an overall growth of 17% in sales and 38% increase in employment. We carry out activities abroad to study different commercial opportunities together with 24 partner companies and eight export destinations.

Earlier in 2019, the chamber announced a partnership called “Pactos de Innovacion” with COLCIENCIAS. The partnership is meant to promote technology and innovation. What is the importance of attracting technology companies to Barranquilla and what is the outlook for this industry here?

The “Pactos de Innovacion” program has been part of the Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce since 2015. It has helped 150 companies since its inception. Furthermore, over 850 companies have signed the pact for innovation, which gives them access to an infrastructure that allows them to test launch their new products and services. Here in the Atlántico province, we have developed a strategy dedicated to pushing economic growth through innovation, a strategy that has been highlighted with our innovation district called Atlanticonnect. With this project the energy, industrial agriculture, and digital health markets have been prioritized as key industries moving forward. It is through this focus on innovation that we continue to attract top human capital to our region and promote the development of academia, new business development, and the continued participation of a forward-thinking public sector that works hand in hand with the private sector.

What are the main goals for the chamber as we end 2019 and start 2020?

In Colombia, we count with over 57 chambers of commerce, all of which share similar challenges on a regional and wider scale. To stay attuned with the global macro dynamics, we have made a series of strategic bets. We want to develop the use of information and data as a primary tool for local market competitiveness. We want to oversee the development of a new pilot program focusing on blockchain technology. We are interested in the development of a diagnostic platform for enterprise solvency, which will allow us to support local companies with analytics. Through our initiative called “Camaras 2050,” we have started to promote value added services that will act as forums for user empowerment, information sharing, economies of scale, and networking models. Overall, we want to continue to remain relevant to our business community.