People & Companies | Guest Commentary | Videos | Blog | Foreign Affiliates in GA | Bookshelf Add Events | About UsHaiti Holds Hidden Value for InvestorsTrevor WilliamsAtlanta - 06.28.12Henri-Claude Poitevien, director of the Caracol Industrial Park, says Haiti is ready to welcome manufacturers.For many Americans, Haiti conjures images of an earthquake-ravaged landscape where impoverishedpeople look to outside organizations for aid.While that characterization is partially true, the Haitian government is working to counteract the ideathat the poor country has little value for U.S. exporters and investors.In fact, because of its lack of industry in many areas, the Caribbean nation is a growing importer ofnecessities, particularly poultry and other food products, government leaders said at a Haiti businesscaravan that made its first stop in Atlanta June 27.With just 10 million people, Haiti imported more than $2.8 billion in goods and exported $565 million in2010.That will only grow as the country recovers from the earthquake that killed tens of thousands in January2010 and displaced even more, officials said at a packed breakfast meeting at Paschals Restaurant onNorthside Drive.
Two and a half years later, thousands still dwell in tents in the capital city, Port-au-Prince.Reconstruction has dragged on, and the country has struggled with public health challenges like a deadlycholera outbreak that began in late 2010.But newly elected President Michel Joseph Martelly is working to attract foreign investment that willput people to work, one of the main keys to addressing some of the countrys most pressing challenges,said Gandy Thomas, Haitis consul general in Atlanta."Our new government believes that to change Haiti we must open our arms to welcome foreignbusinessmen from all parts of the globe," Mr. Thomas said. "Our goal is to make Haiti as a gateway tothe Caribbean as it used to be."In Atlanta, Haiti has some believers. Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell said a trade missionto the country in March was a "transformative" experience that made him realize this isnt a one-wayrelationship."It is an opportunity for us here in Atlanta to be engaged with our friends and businesses in Haiti. It isnot just an opportunity for them," Mr. Mitchell said.Through a new agency called the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements, or CFI, Haiti is trying tosmooth the way for American firms.The center helps investors connect with local partners and offers incentives based on job creation intarget sectors like tourism, garments, agriculture and construction, said Karl Jean-Louis, director of CFI.He pointed to a variety of ongoing projects as evidence that the country is on the upswing, including a$50 million investment in a cruise port in Labadie, a $20 million renovation of historic monuments in thenorth and multiple branded hotels under construction.A major change has been the Haitian governments support for public-private partnerships and the U.S.governments shift to a policy known as "aid for trade," focusing on targeted investments that createexport-ready jobs, said Henri-Claude Poitevien, director of the Caracol Industrial Park in the northernpart of the country.The project could eventually represent a $300 million investment with a total of more than 25 millionsquare feet of factory and office space. For now, only the first few buildings are standing, driven by an$80 million investment by Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., a large Korean textile manufacturer.Mr. Poitevien said the available buildings range from 10,000 square feet to 320,000 square feet andhighlighted many industries where the park is receiving interest, including apparel, candle making,furniture, fruit dehydration and paint manufacturing.Americans should realize that Haitians have substantial buying power and that the new administration is"shaking the leaves" to reduce corruption, opening the door for greater partnership, said Eddy BenoitJr., president and CEO of the Atlanta-based Benoit Group, which sponsored the breakfast meeting.
With deep family roots in Haiti, Mr. Benoit has been eager to take the development and constructionadvisory firm into Haiti. Until now it hasnt been a real possibility, but "its a new day," he said."Theyre our close neighbor, and America has always been a great support. Weve always had some typeof an investment in Haiti, and it only makes sense for us to kind of take that relationship to the nextlevel," Mr. Benoit told GlobalAtlanta.While the audience of more than 100 people was happy to hear about the new opportunities, somewere skeptical about the governments ability to deal with corruption. Others had already begun theprocess of sourcing crops like rum or mangoes.Entrepreneurs Ane Reynolds and her daughter Stephanie Reynolds made the trek upfrom Montgomery, Ala., to attend the conference.Working with 640 farmers, they have planted vines containing 71,000 vanilla beans in the northern partof Haiti that will be ready for harvest in about two years. Selling to ice cream shops and other customerswill leave enough room to earn a healthy profit and help grow farmers livelihoods, they said."I dont like Band-Aid approaches. I realize theyre necessary, but I would rather focus on long-termsolutions," Ane Reynolds told GlobalAtlanta.Visit www.consulathaiti-atlanta.org for more information.ShareThis 2012 The Agio Press, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without expressed permission. 1993-2012 GlobalAtlanta.com, All Rights ReservedGlobalAtlanta.com is published by The Agio Press, Inc.659 Auburn Ave., Suite 119, Atlanta, Ga., 30312 (404) 377-7710 [fax] (404) firstname.lastname@example.orgDirections & Map