JUAN GABRIEL PÉREZ

Colombia 2021/22 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

By helping to drive synergies between multinationals and local SMEs, attract FDI, and reinforce Colombian companies' export strategies, Invest in Bogotá plays a key role in the economic reactivation of the city.

BIOGRAPHY

Juan Gabriel Pérez is the former executive director of Invest in Bogotá, the investment promotion agency of the city. He is a professional in international trade at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and a specialist in negotiation and international relations at the Center for International Studies at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. He worked for 10 years in the Commercial Office of Proexport Colombia (now ProColombia) in Madrid, five of them as director. Since joining the executive management of Invest in Bogotá in 2013, the corporation has been recognized by Site Selection Magazine as the best regional investment promotion agency in Latin America and the Caribbean four times.

Bogotá experienced a 7% economic contraction with the pandemic, above the national average. What measures are in place to reactivate the economy?

One of Bogotá's strengths is its richness of human talent—that has allowed us to remain afloat. At Invest in Bogotá, our focus is working with foreign companies to strengthen their business strategy and help them tap into local professional worker expertise. In 2020, we gathered the sectors that registered a solid performance and leaned on them to foster job creation. BPOs, IT, and manufacturing are some of the sectors that have performed best and therefore have been key in recovering the jobs that disappeared. 2019 data was extremely positive; Bogotá's unemployment rate was in single digits before the pandemic. However, since March the situation has worsened across most indicators. We are focusing our recovery program on convincing companies to work with local suppliers. Having domestic partners is essential to spur growth. It is essential that multinational companies create synergies with local SMEs and incorporate them in the production chain. We have also helped companies attract FDI and reinforce their export strategy. The city has some advantages in terms of tax benefits and subsidies for investors. The national government and city hall have launched several important campaigns, such as the elimination of the VAT for restaurants and hotels. There are measures in place to encourage recovery; however, the most important thing is to take care of ourselves so that a new lockdown will not be imposed. There are high hopes for the vaccines, and we expect them to be ready in the coming years. Once that is done, growth will resume. The biggest challenge for us is to achieve 5% GDP growth for the Bogotá economy in 2021. Every single entity should work toward that objective.

How does Invest in Bogotá foster job creation?

The organization utilizes technology to create opportunities for job seekers and present companies with an abundance of talent. We launched three online job trade fairs, and these gathered 16,000 job positions in the BPO sector and 4,000 in the IT sector; collectively, they offered more than 20,000 job opportunities. We are an important point of reference and contribute to matching supply and demand for work.

Can you elaborate on the infrastructure investments that are a part of Bogotá's plans for growth and development?

Bogotá is highly aware of the need for urban development. Infrastructure is part of the city's economic program, and large construction projects are being prioritized; for example, Bogotá's public rail transport system. Bogotá Metro is expected to be in operation in the next five years, and the government wants to launch a second metro line project. These projects bring opportunities to communities by facilitating communications and travel. Apart from transport, a bidding process for three hospitals tenders was launched. We are also working on a water treatment plant, the PTAR Salitre Fase II, which, with a USD1.2-billion investment, is the second-largest project in Bogotá in the coming years after the metro. The project will be launched within the end of the year and will be awarded in 2021. There will be some bidding processes for Transmilenio bus transportation system and many others. All these infrastructure projects have been expedited because of the pandemic. That is the goal of the cabinet of the city hall.

What are your views on Bogotá's future?

Bogotá has a strong business base and is the financial city of Colombia; the main business groups in Colombia are here. One sector with large potential for the future is the fintech space. We want Bogotá to become the capital of entrepreneurship. We are the second city in South America in terms of the number of fintech projects and the second to receive the most investment for venture initiatives. Our focus are sectors with high added value, such as gaming and professional services.