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San José 2015 Blog: Costa Rica - Challenges and Opportunities for Foreign Investors

(Image: Garrett Britton)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Speakers:

  • Ed Sanchez, Citi Country Officer, Costa Rica
  • Doyle Boyd, Solutions Director, Marketing Digital Production and Content Services, Accenture
  • Dave Dalton, President, General Microcircuits
  • Vincent Guglielmetti, General Manager, Intel Costa Rica
  • Charlie Noel, Vice President of Operations, MicroVention, Inc.
  • Jorge Sequeira, Managing Director, Costa Rica’s Investment Agency (CINDE) (moderator)

Business leaders with investments and operations in Costa Rica came together for a panel on what drew their companies to the country, the benefits they've experienced, and the obstacles they say must still be overcome. 

The speakers generally spoke highly of the Central American country, with Citi's Ed Sanchez going so far as to call it "a diamond in the rough." One area in which panelists were in agreement on is the high quality of the Costa Rican workforce. MicroVention's Charlie Noel said the technical talent stands out, while Vincent Guglielmetti from Intel described it as a well-kept secret. Accenture's Doyle Boyd noted that in the case of international operations, his clients often "want to keep U.S. talent on projects," but in the case of Costa Rica, the local talent is strong enough that "I don't need these onshore guys anymore."

Culture also comes into play. General Microcircuits' David Dalton counted this as a reason that Costa Rica wins out over his company's Asian operations. He stressed that fewer cultural differences exist with Costa Ricans when compared to in Asia, joking that, "You guys understand us lazy Americans" who don't speak Spanish because Costa Ricans are more likely to speak English. In fact, Sanchez said Costa Ricans have the highest rate of English speakers in Latin America.

Still, despite the talented labor pool, speakers did identify challenges. 

One challenge is infrastructure. Noel pointed out that poor roads and transportation pose difficulties for employees and shipping, the country needs more college graduates, and firms need better access to Tier 1 suppliers. Sanchez said that the country's foreign exchange rate could be a challenge when compared to other Latin American currencies and current changes in terms of the value of the U.S. dollar. Not only that, but Costa Rica can be expensive in terms of real estate, electricity, and energy, noted Dalton. 

On the other hand, Dalton pointed out that Costa Rica is strong on renewable energies and has great potential in that field, as well as the benefit of a young workforce when compared to the "graying" workforce in his company's home state of North Carolina. He also highlighted Costa Rica's geographic advantage over Asia and said it offered a security advantage over Mexico. Guglielmetti, who said Intel has operated in the country for 10 years, added that Costa Rica went above and beyond to engage potential investors. 

Panelists also addressed hopes for expanding innovation in Costa Rica. Sanchez talked about an innovation lab being run by Citi that created something called "Citigram"—similar to Instagram—as a better way to communicate with millennials. 

Watch the video of the discussion: