Costa Rica 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dennis Whitelaw, President of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), on some of the successes seen in bilateral business across a number of sectors, and what else AMCHAM can do to help develop sustainable growth.

Dennis Whitelaw
Dennis Whitelaw has 36 years of experience working with Marriott International in different disciplines of hospitality. He is one of the general managers who most promotes his associates, so much so that in 2014 he won the “Talent Leadership Awards 2014,” this translates into opportunities for growth for Marriott associates. Currently, he is the General Manager and Country Manager of Marriott Hotels in Costa Rica, President of AMCHAM and is a member of organizations such as Costa Rica Convention Bureau, Chamber of Industries of Costa Rica and UCCAEP.

What have been some of AMCHAM's most significant activities in its more than 40 years of operation?

AMCHAM has been a constantly growing and evolving organization and one of the strongest chambers, because of its diverse membership base, representing not only commercial activities, but also those in industry, pharmaceuticals, tourism, shared services, logistics, and education, for example. Our membership base consequently feeds 19 different committees and forums that work on specific issues. We have 365 members, which is a nice healthy base. There are several sectors showing potential, especially those in the services sector, in which Costa Rica has evolved from transactional functions to multifunctional sophisticated processes that include financial analysis, regional centers, software development and IT, as well as engineering and design. In the Life Sciences sector, Costa Rica has developed to become Latin America's leading Med Tech hub. Over 250 high-tech manufacturing companies have chosen Costa Rica as their hub for creating a competitive, solid business operation. Costa Rica is well known for its education and literacy levels; however, when it comes to specific technical support, the local workforce can only satisfy an average 80% of the labor demand, leaving 20% of the necessary labor to be brought in from abroad. We need to match future growth with our education so that we can provide jobs for Costa Ricans.

What percentage of AMCHAM is comprised of American companies, and what percentage is made up of other foreign and local companies?

The breakdown between the two is a nearly even split; we have a lot of domestic companies because they see the importance of that US commercial relationship. This relates to another part of what we do: going to the US and meeting with legislators to discuss specific topics related to trade. We participate with the blanket chamber of commerce in the US, AACCLA, and we study the emerging trends at conventions that we hold three times a year.

Can you highlight some of the goals for AMCHAM over the next year?

We want to strengthen our committees even further, putting more technically oriented individuals on them. Meeting with the presidential candidates and presenting our voice and what our membership base wants to see happen is also a fundamental action for 2017. We also want to continuously support gender equality, as this is something that we hold passionately in our hearts as an American chamber. More services will be offered to our associates, and we are working diligently on our telecommunications and social media resources. We want to reach out not just to our membership base and politicians, but also to the general public, so as to further integrate our interests with those of the country. The number of employees collectively working for the members of our Chamber is about 300,000 people, which multiplied by 10 equals 3 million people—3 million people that we can influence directly and indirectly if we can better utilize a comprehensive communications and social media strategy. We want to work closely with the US, and one of the things that we feel adamant about is protecting this diamond, this jewel. There is a need to support a security tax in law that has not yet been voted on. Another goal is to gain more members around the country, especially in the outer regions, to collectively strengthen our organization so that it better represents all of the territories. We have a consolidated presence in 75% of the territories, but we want to increase that figure to 90%. The business environment here in Costa Rica has great potential. If we can keep everyone in the middle of the road and do the things correctly, maintain low government costs, and maximize investments in the country, we can help improve the collection of taxes and close some of the current funding gaps.