ith the fourth largest economy in Latin America, Colombia is intent on increasing its overall competitiveness. Results can be found in the rapid growth of the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) and IT services industries.
As 64% of the population is under 40 years old, the country is prioritizing education and building skills programs. The Colombian BPO Association has found that 57% of employees within the sector are between the ages of 18 and 29.
“About 20 years ago Colombia started betting on an industry that at the beginning was just contact and call centers. We began to work with entities like SENA to create programs to simulate and give people a chance to be bilingual,” says ProColombia Vice President of Investment Julio Puentes Montaño. SENA is the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje or National Learning Service, which maintains 33 regional centers and 117 training centers. “Colombia is working hard in order to close these gaps and now we see the fruits of these programs.”
Located in the Atlántico state on the country’s northern coast, Barranquilla is quickly becoming a services hub supporting U.S and European clients. Over the past five years, 53% of the 20,000 direct jobs created in Barranquilla are in the BPO and IT industries.
Leaders have been intent on becoming a bilingual city, ensuring the workforce hits intermediate to upper-intermediate (B1 to B2) English levels. Multinational corporations such as Amazon, Dell, Acer, Walmart, Landstar, AT&T have established services operations here and largely depend on English for business communications. Through programs like Soy Bilingüe and Inglés para el Trabajo the city has been able to train thousands of students every year before they enter the workforce.
Barranquilla is the coastal arrival point for four of the 10 submarine fiber optic cables that connect the country to the rest of the world, offering increased bandwidth and reliability. That’s one reason international technology and telecommunications company GTD is preparing to open its second Colombian data center in Barranquilla with a $20 million investment. After success offering backup infrastructure for Bogotá clients from Medellín, the company felt expanding here was a natural fit.
“The city has direct connection to the Americas, connection to four submarine cables, it has low seismic alerts and a good energy matrix,” GTD Country Manager Fernando Maturana told me during the ProBarranquilla segment of the recently held Colombia Investment Summit. “We found that we can make Barranquilla a connectivity hub for Latin America in Colombia.”
In Valle del Cauca in the Pacifica region of Colombia, a rise in BPO and IT investments created the need for Zonamerica to launch an over 93-acre technology park just south of capital city Cali. Valle del Cauca’s digital economy cluster includes more than 800 companies within the IT sector, and this addition looks to welcome more.
Established as an FTZ and within the city’s university cluster, the site brings together the benefits of low cost of living and labor with ideal talent. Zonamerica has agreements with local institutions for companies to receive discounts for programs or skills training during operations. The park has its own on-site, 10,700-sq.-ft. tier IV data center and will soon feature restaurants, a gym, recreational space and transportation services.
“This is different from anything offered in Cali or the country,” says Zonamerica Colombia General Manager Henry Arias Amórtegui. “We grow with the company with scalable infrastructure and try to be a one-stop solution.”
The park offers 107,639 sq. ft. of leasable space and has 34 companies installed on site. Upon full buildout, Zonamerica will house 24 buildings over 1 million sq. ft., with the capacity to support more than 17,000 jobs.