These days, and under careful biosafety protocols, the economic world is resurfacing. At the local level, progress is made in the second phase, called economic recovery, which corresponds to a process that began last April when a first instance was started up for the reactivation of the sectors after the confinement. The Departmental Development Plan, structured by the team of Governor Aníbal Gaviria, managed to rethink it before it was approved, and in the midst of the situation, it was strengthened to meet the needs of the new reality. This was achieved by including a strategy called “Arriba Antioquia,” focused on the economic and social reactivation of the territory, that contemplates 58 cross-cutting programs to contribute to the generation of employment and the productivity of companies.
In addition to the Governor’s Office, other institutions, such as Comfama, Comfenalco and the Interactuar Corporation participate in this strategy. The goal is that with an investment of COP130,000 million, “Arriba Antioquia” will generate 150,000 jobs during the first half of 2021 and achieve strengthening of micro-enterprises through loans and training, addressing priorities to grow their incomes.
According to Daniela Trejo, Director of Internationalization at the Secretariat of Productivity and Competitiveness of Antioquia, the pandemic revealed many shortcomings that local companies had in business models and marketing channels. That is why a strengthening effort was initiated, which supported companies so they are able to achieve the conversion, that is to say, to find other business centers and generate resources in other markets.
We articulate all the employment opportunities that are being generated by the companies of Antioquia to bring them to the people who are seeking vacancies. We also help strengthen emerging enterprises and micro-enterprises through local procurement programs and connection with suppliers”.Paola Andrea Mejía, Head of Employment and Entrepreneurship at Comfama.
One of them is the fashion industry, for example, in which some companies expanded their lines of business with the creation and manufacturing of personal protective products. “They began to make scrubs, scrub caps and, especially, face masks. They started as a result of this emergency to supply the hospital network regionally and for the mass use of people. Today, we already have four companies that are even exporting these items and we accompany them throughout the process, from the implementation of biosafety protocols to training in the requirements of the Ministry of Health and the Invima (Local FDA) to make these elements,” she explains. According to the entity’s figures, the fashion system is a strong sector, which has grown by 2,3% per year and generates 118,000 formal jobs in about 18,000 companies.
Attracting More Investment
Changing geopolitical conditions and trade tensions between the United States and China have caused a number of American companies to look back to Latin America as a center of operations. So, from ACI Medellín, bridges are built to make Antioquia be considered an investment destination. Its Director, Eleonora Betancur, explains that for every COP invested in ACI Medellín, the city gets a return of COP261 in Foreign Direct Investment and COP7 in cooperation projects.
Resources of COP12,000 million were available for the four-year period 2020-2023, and some $850 million USD in foreign investment is expected to be reported by the end of the term. In addition, the Agency has managed channels of international cooperation with countries such as the United Arab Emirates. Spain, China and Korea, which have sent important test donations for COVID-19 and biosecurity elements.
Sectors such as fashion, found opportunities in the manufacturing of security products and the agribusiness also managed to access new markets in Europe and Asia. At least in foreign trade, the picture looks promising.
Hope in Tourism and Challenges for SMEs
The Antioquia Governor’s Office’s efforts are focused mainly along four areas: science, technology and innovation; sectoral development and productive projects; internationalization and a line dedicated to tourism (one of the sectors hardest hit due to the total closure they suffered for about 6 months), through a program called “Antioquia Es Mágica” (Antioquia is magical), a strategy that was launched in late April and that seeks to boost tourism in the different subregions of the department based on gastronomy, history and urban planning as main attractions.
According to Claudia Márquez, First Lady of Antioquia and one of the project’s leaders, what is sought is to encourage visitors to visit municipalities that have not traditionally been tourist places, but that have multiple attractions. This year, the program began working with 20 municipalities from feasibility and potential and some of them were physically intervened, including Venecia, part of Turbo, Puerto Berrío, Santo Domingo and Cisneros. Today, the works are progressing in the municipality of San Vicente. All work is done on infrastructure reforms, beautification and promotion of the destination.
“The reactivation has caused the Antioquians to begin to consume local and travel in the territory. As we have promoted these new municipalities, the changes have already been noted. For example, in Venice, a gastronomic explosion has occurred. Furthermore, we are leading, with restaurants by public competition, a contest to create an identity dish that will become the typical dish of the municipality,” said Márquez.
The First Lady reported that progress is made in joint research with the University of Antioquia, Cesde and the Colegio Mayor, to identify the typical dishes of Antioquia and to create a culinary map, where restaurants of each municipality and their specialty will be referenced. In addition, together with the Hotel and Tourism Association of Colombia (Cotelco), farms in different regions are being intervened and formalized to host guests, offer real agricultural experiences and artisan food dishes. We are seeking to generate authentic experiences for the tourist, besides dignifying our countryside and making our producers proud.
Data from the “Comité Intergremial de Antioquia” (Business Committee of Antioquia) show that the entire tourism chain has barely recovered by 10% to 12%. It is estimated that close to 80% of jobs have been lost as a result of this emergency.
With regard to SMEs, the director of the Comité Intergremial, Nicolás Posada, described the difficult path that this conglomerate has traveled during the pandemic. The conglomerate represents about 90% of the enterprise fabric of Antioquia, and that, according to the analysis, in March, when everything started, they had only working capital for less than 30 days. “This led to closure, and it has been difficult to access loans and subsidies offered by the government, because this aid is channeled by the banking system and each institution has its own risk policies. Discussions have taken place on the subject but we have not really made much progress at the moment,” he said.
With “Arriba Antioquia,” the government wants to revive the economy through public works with projects of road infrastructure, housing, environment, agro-industry and technology in the region.
The Agroculture Explores New Paths
Compared to 2019, this year has been a year of ups and downs for agricultural producers in the department since, at least in terms of exports, the sector had not been doing badly. According to the Secretariat for Productivity and Competitiveness, products such as the Gulupa (Passiflora pinnatistipula) have even had a growth of 24%, new markets such as Holland for hass avocado were activated, and great potential is apparent for others such as the uchuva (Cape gooseberry – Physalis peruviana), mango and citrus fruits.
The government official explains what has been achieved is to make commercial platforms available to unite supply and demand. Two export fairs were also held where producers from all subregions of the department were connected and training focused on quality certifications was carried out. This served to update many entrepreneurs on quality seals, certifications, and so on, and a positive revival is expected during 2021.
On the other hand, there is floriculture, another sub-sector of the agro that is not related to food, but that is sensitive in the department because it generates about 15,000 thousand direct jobs, 2,500 indirect ones and about $1,400 million USD annually in exports. Marcos Ossa, director of the Colombian Association of Flowers, said that in the March, April and May quarter of 2019, exports from Antioquia reached $78 million USD, while in 2020 that figure decreased to $50 million USD.
“We have achieved an interesting recovery for October and November, but now we have a problem with airlines because they have decreased their cargo capacity to focus on exporting medical materials, undermining capacity. However, the sector has gradually normalized, we are on an upward curve with uncertainty but good prospects for the end of the year,” said Ossa.
The floricultural sector is one of the most technologically advanced in the agro-industry in Antioquia. Municipalities such as Rionegro, Marinilla, Carmen de Viboral, La Ceja and La Union receive great well-being from the sector that operates under all legal requirements, since the hiring is not carried out for each harvest but produces throughout the year, in a formal way.
In addition to hass avocado, citrus fruits, passiflora, cocoa and traditional coffee, Antioquia is committed to the cultivation of psychoactive cannabis plants and has 17.2% of the licenses granted in the country by the Ministry of Justice and Law. In fact, Colombia is a leader in the regulation and production of cannabis for scientific and medicinal purposes and its cultivation has been boosted by lower production costs, availability of labor, experience and qualified research talent.