SUCCESS STORY

Costa Rica 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dennis Whitelaw, President of AmCham Costa Rica, on promoting greater competitiveness, attracting more companies to the country, and its efforts to promote fair trade.

Dennis Whitelaw
BIOGRAPHY
Dennis Whitelaw has 37 years of experience working with Marriott International in different disciplines of hospitality. Currently, he is the General Manager and Country Manager of Marriott Hotels in Costa Rica, President of AmCham, and Vice President of the Costa Rica Convention Bureau. He is also Vice President of the Costa Rica Convention Bureau, Director of the Chamber of Industries in Costa Rica and of the Costa Rican Union of Chambers and Associations of Private Business Sector (UCCAEP). For nearly three years, while he was the General Manager in Marriott Hotels in Guatemala City, he also successfully led AmCham Guatemala.

AmCham's members account for 80% of the country's exports. How do you support your members?

Our 370 members enjoy a great relationship with the government, and many have received incentives and support to bring their businesses here. They are investing in a country that provides profitability by supporting democracy, the rule of law, and a great human capital resource. The chamber works together with the Costa Rican and US governments on initiatives that we find to be important to our members and especially to promote better competitiveness indicators for the country. We achieve this with the help of the technical inputs of our 16 committees and forums, which work on analyzing laws and legislations, giving us opportunities to meet with congresspeople and representatives from the executive branch in order to share our observations. These workgroups also share best practices and provide training in several areas such as CSR, tax policy, regulatory improvement, tourism, real estate, economy and finance, trade, and so on.

What challenges does the private sector here face?

We need to maintain the incentives for bringing companies into the country. That helps us with our GDP and with the employment situation. We also need to start looking at the curricula that we have in universities to provide the education for the future jobs. We know that the landscape of employment is changing and we need to have them adapt quickly, so when people graduate they can fill those jobs. The emphasis on security is also imperative; we need to make sure it is known that Costa Rica is a diamond of Central America, as well as invest and continually seek government support to see that this country maintains its image of being safe and secure. In addition, we want to take a look at the infrastructure. The electric train project is imperative, as it will help reduce traffic on roads and, most importantly, provide secure and efficient transportation to our associates and students.

What is AmCham doing to promote fair and legal trade?

We have an enlisted committee specifically for this purpose. AmCham has developed an app for consumers to register points of sale of illicit products, which will help us work more closely with the government in giving vital information to be able to execute a prosecution program. We brought in the government branches of the training program and specialists from around the world to come and train them on how to identify these products. We need to continue to work with the executive branch in making sure this critical topic stays on the agenda. We need to see that our laws are continually enriched to ensure fairer treatment. We also need to expose the consumer and the government to the products that may not be well understood; while we know what cigarettes and alcohol are, some goods contain other products that are coming through such as pharmaceutical items, and some of them are dangerous.

Why is this country attractive for investing in and creating new businesses?

The environment of the country for international investors, especially from the US, has been extremely productive. Costa Rica's number-one strength is human capital; the workforce is extremely educated, positive, and has a great work ethic. In addition, the government and the administrations in the past have been favorable to international investment, and we hope this continues. Organizations like the American Chamber and the Industrial Chamber are key organizations that greatly support international investment. We also have CINDE and Procomer, which are an extension of the government that are there to help foreign investors. The environment here is extremely positive, and more importantly, if we take a look at the companies from different countries that have invested here through all these years, they all have a proven track record of success.