It’s been 16 years since Intel chose Costa Rica for a $300 million semiconductor assembly and test plant. Today, Intel is the #1 revenue producer for Costa Rica—not its bananas, coffee, or even its ecotourism. During a recent trip to the country, I was amazed at how a country that is so small (the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined), doesn’t have a military, uses a nicely paved freeway system that is for the most part one lane each way, is expected to reach its goal of becoming a carbon neutral territory by 2021, is coming up rapidly as a technology center—possibly supplanting others in the process.
It’s one thing to have a guide explain the huge and beneficial impact Intel has had on the country, quite another to meet up with a representative of HP, another big player in the country, who stated that the country is growing in importance due to its educated workers with a literacy rate of 94.9% (education is free in the country), commitment to grow its technology sector, and its proximity to the U.S. The HP representative suggested that several companies are even expressing an increased interest in moving offshore efforts from India to Costa Rica. IBM announced last year its intent to invest $300 million over ten years in Costa Rica, generate 1,000 new jobs, and install a service center to begin operations in 2014 providing support services strategic outsourcing, server system operations, security services, and more.
Another point I found interesting is a huge, brand new Estadio Nacional, a 35,000-seat $105 million stadium, funded and built entirely by the Chinese government. The donation of the stadium is curious as it didn’t bring jobs to the Costa Rican building trades, nor were Costa Rican materials used, and Costa Rican labor laws went out the window for the Chinese workers constructing it. Sadly, the country’s long-standing relationship with Taiwan also suffered in the process—as part of the agreement for the stadium, Costa Rica severed its relationship to Taiwan. China is just behind the U.S. as Costa Rica’s biggest trading partner.
As investment in Costa Rica continues to rise from U.S. companies and China, I can’t help but be curious as to how this is going to shake out in the next few years. So much of the country seems ripe for picking, and its electronics-based future is looking up—how much of what makes Costa Rica unique remain?