The Business Year

Ricardo Plata

COLOMBIA - Economy

Poverty Reduced from 43% to 21%

Economic Development Director, Puerta de Oro


Ricardo Mario Plata Sarabia obtained his degree in Industrial Engineering from la Universidad de los Andes, and a Master Degree in Urban Economic Development from the University College London. Ricardo has widespread experience in General Management working for multi-national and regional companies such as Dow Chemical and Terpel SA. He has also been a leader in the Economic Development field with executive positions at Conferias and Puerta de Oro.

“We have a very diversified export base in the city; no economic sector represents more than 15% of GDP.“

How important has Puerta de Oro been in promoting the business community and attracting new businesses?

Ricardo Vives: Since 2008, Barranquilla has undergone a massive transformation process in terms of financial growth and urban development. Over the last 12 years, Barranquilla has transformed from a city with a budget of COP700 million to one with over COP3 billion. In that sense, the role of Puerta de Oro has been fundamental in providing the city with a long-term vision and developing and structuring important projects.

Ricardo Plata: As for the role of Puerta de Oro as the city´s convention center I would argue the it has allowed Barranquilla to host important trade fairs, including major agricultural, gastronomic, and automobile trade fairs, that have positioned the city as an attractive option in the greater Caribbean basin. These events have been possible because of our state-of-the-art infrastructure and the collaboration from the complete local tourism value chain. In summary, Puerta de Oro has been a critical catalyst in the success of the local private sector growth.

What is your relationship with the Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce like, and what other important partnerships are you currently working with?

RP: The chamber of commerce is a key part of the city’s social and financial structures as well as to the Puerta de Oro economic development corporation. As such, the chamber provides critical insight and analysis on the evolution of clusters, high impact enterprises, exports which are important for public policy decisions regarding economic development. Additionally, it provides guidance and mentorship to new and existing businesses and investors.

How important has the relationship been with the chamber of commerce and the Corferias Group?

RV: Our first project was the construction of the Puerta de Oro Convention Center. At the beginning of the project it was clear that the city could benefit from an external professional operator such as the Corferias Group, which is based in Bogotá. This group chose to establish its first offsite operation in Barranquilla, so we agreed on a contract to operate the convention center. With this partnership, we have been able to attract several organizations and associations, partnering with some of the biggest industrial, construction, real estate events, among others. Another important actor in this relation and the overall development of the city is ProBarranquilla, an investment promotion agency that has led the promotion and visibility of the city for the past 25 years.

How do you foster market conditions to keep attracting businesses at a faster rate?

RP: Some of the key sectors are industry, commerce, energy, and professional services. Moving forward, we aim to leverage the city’s geographical location to attract export businesses. We are at the north peak of South America with direct connection to Central America, the US, and the Caribbean. Equally important, the quality of human talent in Barranquilla is top notch, which has a lot to do with the city having one of the best education sectors in the Caribbean and Central America. Our strong institutional growth helps businesses solve the operational bottlenecks and reduce the time it takes to start a business. If you look at the indicators over the last 12 years, all of them are in an uptrend, giving investors more reasons to invest in Barranquilla.

What is your vision behind the designs of the urban planning projects?

RV: Puerta de Oro is a company with people at the center of every project. We measure our success in terms of the number of people using our project and our key performance indicators always include social metrics. One of our business units in Puerta de Oro is always working on programming and generating demand for every project. For example, Gran Malecon, our river boardwalk project, is more than just a boardwalk. The design is meant to promote casual encounters, making it the most visited public space in Colombia with over 7 million visitors over the last two and a half years. There is a unit dedicated to curating weekly live cultural events featuring break dancers, singers, and orchestra, to name a few. We have also been measuring the impact of every entity in order to find what value chains are positively impacted by these public spaces and how to make future investments more efficient.

What is your pitch to attract investors and business to Barranquilla?

RP: Barranquilla is a city of the future. Since its conception, it has been a creative and global-minded city, with immigrants from all over the world. We have some of the best local-level infrastructure in education, health, and public spaces developed with the help of public-private ventures that have transformed the city. Colombia is growing faster than Peru, Chile, and every Latin American country, and, notably, no other Colombian city has grown faster than Barranquilla. We have reduced poverty rates from 43% to 21% in the last 10 years and have grown household incomes 1.7 times during the same period. We are motivated as a city to welcome all kinds of investors and businesses.



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