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Cauca Valley: Prosperous and diverse

Article - April 8, 2014
Last year, the department hosted the World Games, the VII Pacific Alliance Summit and the Summit of Leaders of African Descent, and is home to several of Colombia’s most thriving industries
Characterized by fertile green valleys, water resources such as the Cauca River and Pacific Ocean, the mountains of the Western and Central ranges, and the Pacific coast shoreline, Cauca Valley’s geographic position is ideal, serving as the impetus for the region. Its capital, Cali, is fast becoming a key player in the country’s development. The free trade agreement with the U.S. will prove whether it is prepared to take full advantage of its location. 
Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, did not develop economically until the mid-20th century due to its landlocked position, but is now emerging as one of the country’s major business centers. In 2013 alone, it hosted three high profile events, with more events lined up for the future. The third edition of the Summit of Leaders of African Descent brought together more than 2,000 participants of African heritage, including mayors, leaders, ex-presidents, scientists, business owners, and creatives, with a view to unite the African Diaspora.

The World Games, an 11-day event organized in record time when the originally designated site (Germany) backed out, welcomed over 2,100 foreigners and 11,250 domestic tourists, generating nearly 10,000 jobs and millions in revenue. It received the stamp of approval from the World Games Association, whose director went on to say it was the best World Games ever. 
Another important event in 2013 was the VII Pacific Alliance Summit, which brought to Cali heads of state from Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico to discuss strategies to advance economic integration and competitiveness in the Pacific region, and to also exchange ideas on expanding trade and investment with Asian-Pacific nations. Thanks to the Alliance, Cauca Valley “is positioned as the export platform of the Pacific” says María Eugenia Lloreda, General Manager of Invest Pacific, an investment promotion agency specializing in attracting investment to the region. 
María Eugenia Lloreda,
General Manager of Invest Pacific
 Óscar Pardo Aragón,
General Manager of EMCALI
Mauricio Iragorri,
General Manager of Mayaguez
 Harold Eder,
President of Manuelita
Cali’s mayor, Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero, has focused on the city becoming a competitive metropolis since his election in 2011, with a vision of Cali as Latin America’s Pacific capital. Hosting high profile events has helped, as they are raising Cali’s profile and revealing its tourism potential. Cali is no longer just the home of salsa dancing; there is also an increase of medical tourism thanks to the city’s great universities and access to affordable medical procedures. 
Governor Ubeimar Delgado, whose mission is to boost tourism as an economic engine and job generator for the department, highlights that the entire area has “great tourism potential”, listing Calima Lake (Colombia’s largest artificial lake), the wine region, the north Cauca Valley, and its gastronomy as some of its enticements. He has also been working to make the department safer with the support of the national government and the private sector, with successful results. Cali is safer, Mr. Delgado says. 

Another priority has been getting the department’s finances in order and implementing fiscal transparency. The Valley “has always been a very prosperous region”, especially agriculturally, says Arturo Gutiérrez de Piñeres, President of Gases de Occidente, the second largest gas distributor in the country. Much is being done domestically besides the promotion of tourism and enforcement of security, with government at all levels stepping up support in business growth, employment generation and social housing. Mr. Delgado points to multi-million dollar plans to restructure Buenaventura port to allow for greater efficiency and capacity. 
The Valley has an industrial history, Invest Pacific’s Ms. Lloreda adds, so its proximity to the port “plays a very important role as a commercial investment door.” Its “privileged geographical position situates it as the gateway to the Pacific. Half of Colombia’s exports are through the port of Buenaventura,” says Harold Eder, President of the 150-year old family-run sugar company Manuelita. 
Sugar is one of its main industries; companies such as Mayagüez and Manuelita are at its forefront, so they are depended upon for generating employment in the region. Mayagüez is looking to expand, currently seeking opportunities with the U.S. “We are a catalyst for the economy of this region,” says General Manager Mauricio Iragorri, noting that every job created at the factory generates 10 additional jobs in the value chain. The goal is to “continue growing at a higher rate”, going beyond Colombia, he says. Its growth would mean growth for the region. 
Another important factor in the region’s success is the return to city hands, after federal intervention for 13 years, of EMCALI, the state-owned corporation providing water, telecom and electricity services. “We have the best water in the country in terms of quality,” says Óscar Pardo Aragón, EMCALI’s General Manager, noting that, besides plans to expand into the region and to the Pacific – “a company that doesn’t think about growing is destined to disappear” – they are developing mid- and long-term supply projects to accommodate the city’s expansion and growth.
Boosted by the Pacific Alliance, Cauca Valley is well positioned as colombia’s pacific coast export platform and half of its exports pass through buenaventura port
With the FTA now in effect, international investment is in full swing. Mr. Guerrero points out that Cali was recognized by the Financial Times as one of the best cities in the world to invest and that is mainly because of its market diversification. “There are many multinational and multi-Latin companies in Cali,” says Mr. Pardo Aragón. “The region has diversified into agricultural production, manufacturing and industrial sectors, which make it one of the most apt regions to generate product consolidation platforms.” 
It has always been a region “open to foreign investment,” says Manuelita’s Mr. Eder. There is an abundance of successful, diverse companies in the region, such as Smurfit Kappa (paper), Tecnoquímicas (pharmaceuticals), Inorca (seating manufacturer), SIDOC (steel), Belleza Express (health and beauty products), and MAC Johnson Control (battery supplier), among others. Governor Delgado believes U.S. investment in its diverse sectors – land, textiles, plastics, paper, construction materials – would be mutually profitable, adding that there is a high demand from Colombians for high quality products, especially clothing.
The country has overcome its crises, and is now “a country which offers guarantees of stability,” he says, adding that the European crisis has spurred even more interest in Colombia. Gases de Occidente’s Mr. Gutiérrez credits the mayor and governor’s administrations with inspiring optimism, “spurring change, and uniting everyone on the same road forward”.