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COLOMBIA - Economy

Vicky Osorio

Executive Directo, ProBarranquilla

Bio

Vicky Osorio is Executive Director of ProBarranquilla.

"ProBarranquilla, a private non-profit organization focused on the development of Barranquilla and Atlántico state, has been actively working to achieve its goals for 35 years."
TBY talks to Vicky Osorio, Executive Director of ProBarranquilla, about the organisation’s achievements, supporting international trade, and priorities for 2023.
What are some of the organization’s greatest and proudest achievements over the last three-and-a-half decades?

ProBarranquilla, a private non-profit organization focused on the development of Barranquilla and Atlántico state, has been actively working to achieve its goals for 35 years. We have adapted our approach to the changing needs of the city, state, and global development requirements. Our efforts are concentrated in three strategic areas. First, we aim to attract direct investment from national and international companies interested in utilizing Barranquilla as a strategic gateway to international markets, particularly in the export sector. Second, we focus on promoting tourism by attracting events related to the city’s key sectors, allowing us to showcase Barranquilla’s growth and transformation to specialized audiences. This also presents opportunities for local businesses to interact with potential partners. Third, we engage in policy advocacy to create a favorable business environment. We work on improving the investment climate and collaborate on collective projects with private sector partners to make a social impact in specific areas of the city with significant needs. Over the years, we have achieved numerous milestones, including attracting manufacturing and service projects that have generated jobs, increased export capacity, and fostered value chains with local firms.
Overall, ProBarranquilla’s strategic efforts have advanced our goals and contributed to Barranquilla’s development story.

Can you give us some practical examples of how ProBarranquilla supports international trade?

We focus on attracting two types of companies to Barranquilla. The first are companies that prioritize environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) standards. We are convinced that establishing operations in Barranquilla makes it easier for them to meet their ESG goals, given the city’s favorable aspects. Second, we target companies interested in near-shoring strategies, as Barranquilla’s strategic location offers opportunities to access not only the US market, but also Central America and the Caribbean. Being located just four hours by ship from the east coast of the US, coupled with Colombia’s free trade agreements and well-established local infrastructure, makes Barranquilla highly competitive for companies seeking international market access. Additionally, Barranquilla has a strong competitiveness in services, with capabilities being developed to create a bilingual labor force. For example, Barranquilla is the first city in Colombia to implement a system where public schools include bilingualism, with guaranteed funds for the next eight years. This ongoing commitment to creating advantages and opportunities, both in manufacturing and services, sets Barranquilla apart and continues to make a difference for companies looking to establish operations in the city.

From your point of view, why should a company or investor select Barranquilla as a hub?

The pandemic has brought about significant changes in various aspects of our lives, including how we approach investments. While established companies and the capabilities of our labor force have always been important factors, there is now an increasing emphasis on quality of life. When companies enquire about our key advantages, they are now interested in the quality of life we offer in Barranquilla. Over the past 15 years, our city has undergone a remarkable transformation, not just in terms of opportunities and advantages, but also in terms of quality of life. Our positive and vibrant culture, where people are happy and driven to make things happen, is a key aspect. Additionally, the efforts of the mayor’s office and the governor’s office in creating opportunities for leisure and improving the overall way of life for our people have further enhanced our city’s appeal as an investment destination.

How does ProBarranquilla work with the public and private sectors to promote Barranquilla, attract investment, and support local organizations and companies?

We are an example of a successful public-private partnership, as we are a private entity funded by companies; however, our relationship with the public sector in Barranquilla is extremely close, and they fully support our efforts to attract and facilitate investments into the city. They are our partners, and we work closely together, making our jobs easier. When we bring companies to the city, they often have meetings with the mayor’s office and the governor’s office, and they are able to see that we are all aligned toward the same goal. This unified approach makes it easier for companies to invest in Barranquilla, knowing that everyone is working together to ensure their success. We create strategies in collaboration with the local government, which is not just a selling point, but a reality that becomes evident when people come here and witness how it works. This collaborative approach is a compelling argument for companies considering investments in our city.

What are your priorities for 2023, and what are the organization’s goals in terms of ESG?

Despite the challenges we face at both the international and local levels, with the upcoming elections and reforms, we are confident in the opportunities that arise from these challenges. In fact, Barranquilla has strong competitive advantages that make it an attractive destination for investments. The ongoing conflicts, such as the Taiwan-China and Ukrainian-Russian wars, further reinforce the need for companies to invest closer to their target markets. It is almost like reading a textbook on the opportunities we can offer investors. One of our key advantages is our strategic role in the energy transition in Colombia. Barranquilla has natural characteristics that make it conducive to energy projects, such as abundant solar radiation, offshore winds, and the potential to produce ammonia and green hydrogen. However, it is not just about energy production; our strong manufacturing sector also provides the capability to supply the needs of various sectors. Furthermore, as we focus on sustainability and align with ESG principles, we are preparing to provide information to companies on how they can have a positive social impact. This includes hiring employees from vulnerable populations and addressing societal needs through project initiatives. Additionally, our proximity to the east coast of the US minimizes environmental impacts compared to shipping from other locations, making Barranquilla an attractive choice for companies focused on ESG. As a small entity, we are also committed to leading by example and incorporating ESG principles into our own actions. Our goal is to attract companies that prioritize ESG as the centerpiece of their strategies, and we are actively working toward that objective.

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