SHINING EXAMPLE

Costa Rica 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jorge Sequeira, Managing Director of CINDE, on Costa Rica's economic evolution, the most attractive sectors in the country, and being a partner for growth.

Jorge Sequeira
BIOGRAPHY
Jorge Sequeira is the Managing Director of the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE). He joined CINDE in 2014, after PROCOMER, where he served for four years as the General Manager. Prior to that, he co-founded and was CEO of Exactus Corporation. He was previously also Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Costa Rican Chamber of Industries, as well as of GS1 Costa Rica. Sequeira graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University, in Boston, where he obtained an engineering degree in computer science and applied math. He later obtained a post-graduate degree in administration and management from the Harvard University School of Extension, also in Boston.

How has the country moved from being an agriculture economy to an industrial and services-oriented one?

Costa Rica is an example to the rest of the world of how a country can make a real transformation of its economy. We were exporting four basic agricultural products with no value-added to a limited number of countries around the world in the 1980s. Today, we export 4,500 different products to 150 countries around the world, many of which are value added with a high level of sophistication. Products and services make up half and half of our exports, with USD10 billion of the former and USD8 billion of the latter. Our transformation and evolution from a basic economy to a more sophisticated one are based mostly on IT and IT-related and enabled industries, including software development, gaming, mobile applications, customer support, finance, accounting, HR, and cybersecurity. All these new areas did not exist 15-20 years ago.

What sectors are currently the most attractive for foreign companies in Costa Rica?

We can divide them into four large sectors. One of the most popular is life sciences. It is a sector with a great deal of dynamism that continues to grow, hire more people, increase it footprint, and cultivate its ecosystem here. Another is advanced manufacturing, including aerospace, automotive, electronics, and other types of industries. It is not volume-based, but rather low-volume, high sophistication products. We cannot compete with Mexico or China in terms of high-volume industries. However, we are delivering highly sophisticated electronic components for Tesla. The services sector is split in two: everything IT related and enabled, such as software development and testing, internet, mobile, gaming, and cybersecurity; and everything that has to do with shared services, such as finance, accounting, supply chain, and customer support. And the last sector is light manufacturing and the food industry.

What is CINDE doing to promote the STEM areas of learning?

We have an entire department dedicated to the investment climate. Its job is to work on all of the areas that help us improve the investment climate so more companies will come to Costa Rica. It starts at the human talent side of the equation. We need to work on infrastructure, electricity costs, bureaucracy, and red tape, though the most important area is human talent. If we continue to develop the right human talent, companies will keep coming. We work with the Ministry of Education closely through its programs to help improve the level of English taught at public schools and to bring STEM education into public schools and technical colleges so students graduate with a wider range of skills. All 70 private and public universities in Costa Rica are well known and respected. We also work closely with them to ensure students graduate with the skills needed by companies investing in the country. This ensures careers are aligned with the needs of the market.

CINDE was ranked the best promotion agency in the world in 2017. What were some of the successes that have led to that achievement?

Few investment promotion agencies in the world help companies throughout the whole process—from the moment they are prospecting to the moment they are making a decision, helping them install, and once they are here, helping them understand how to grow horizontally or vertically and expand their footprint, and never letting go. All companies that have launched operations in Costa Rica through CINDE continue to operate here. We have forums for them to participate in HR, training, and R&D. That sets us apart, because companies see us as their partner more than a government agency just doing what it is obligated to do. We use a great deal of technology to provide better services and invest in innovation to be on top of the newest trends, though those are all part of a single strategy that is to be a reliable partner for growth and success.