It might not have the ‘wow’ factor of its two coastal neighbors, but Barranquilla isn’t letting that stop the city from becoming Colombia’s next hub for investment. A proactive mayor, status as the nation’s largest Caribbean port, multiple world-renowned cultural events and perpetual sunshine seem poised to help ‘La Arenosa’ take off in 2013.
Solidifying its mover and shaker status, Barranquilla’s district government was chosen as a model for a conference this month uniting the National Planning Department, the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development and the Presidency of the Republic. The program selected Barranquilla as a pilot city in order to analyze successes in terms of community and minority group development plans, private sector involvement, education, health and infrastructure, among other aspects.
“The fact that they chose us as a model, as an example to see how we work, is a great indicator that we’re on the right track,” said Natalia Abello Vives, General Secretary for the Mayor’s Office.
Leading the way for Colombian cities
La Arenosa – a nickname purportedly based on the sandy condition of the city’s streets during dry, windy periods – also became one of four Colombian cities picked to participate in Sustainable and Competitive Cities last year, a program sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank.
The program seeks to “mitigate the effects of climate change, finance investment projects, create employment opportunities and decrease poverty in the city,” according to Luis Fernando Ulloa, Technical Vice-President of Findeter, the Colombian Territorial Development Finance Company.
Among the reasons cited for Barranquilla’s inclusion was the exemplary degree of security in the city. Interestingly, violent crime in the metropolitan area registered a slight increase in 2012, although the homicide rate remains well below Colombia’s other major cities.
Built to be lived in
Of course, Colombia’s fourth largest city has much more to offer than a low risk of being murdered. The city also recuperated or constructed more than 520,000 square meters of parks and green space last year. Part of that impressive figure includes the soon-to-be-completed Caribbean Cultural Park, which already includes the Museum of the Caribbean, and will offer a Film Library and the Barranquilla Museum of Modern Art, among others.
Besides, if you need to get out of town, Cartagena and Santa Marta are both roughly one hour away and flights to Miami take less than three hours.
Mayor Elsa Noguera has aggressively promoted urban renewal projects as well, including the Avenida del Río along the Magdalena River, a new Caribbean Exposition and Events Center and a Valorization Program designed to improve infrastructure and connectivity, among other efforts. The city hosted Colombia’s 11 largest construction companies last month to discuss those projects and others in the works.
Involving a total investment of more than $360 billion pesos (approx. USD $200 million), the Exposition and Events Center is an especially ambitious proposal. The space will allow for world-class business conferences in addition to concerts and cultural events hosting up to 16,000 attendees. The Center will also eventually connect with the Avenida del Río, an equally audacious undertaking finally linking residents with the river that birthed Colombia’s oldest port city.
Colombia in general could hardly be more welcoming to foreign business investment, including almost complete exemption from income taxes for new hotels, software development, eco-tourism and revenue crops including oil palm and cocoa. Free trade agreements with the U.S. and Canada further reduce costs for imports, exports and business startups, and the European Union stands poised to finalize a similar deal this year – a particular boon for Barranquilla, the primary port for European commerce in Colombia.
Regarding the potential agreement with the E.U., Colombian ambassador to the United Kingdom Mauricio Rodríguez said to El Heraldo, “for Barranquilla in particular this would be a huge benefit due to its geographic location. Colombian business owners can look at Barranquilla as the ideal place to locate their productions.”
Carnival fever may have died down for the year, taking Barranquilla temporarily out of the media spotlight, but with infinite possibilities for those not distracted by the history of Cartagena or the beaches of Santa Marta, the city quietly remains one of Colombia’s biggest boomtowns.