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HUGE job creation in the Northern Triangle
The Central American Group: Hello. Welcome to another installation of the Central American Group’s podcasts. In these discussions, we speak with experts who have various programs and knowledge and expertise in business in Central America. Today we have a gentleman with us from an organization called Think HUGE. His name is Greg Huger. Greg, maybe you can tell us what the acronym means and a little bit about yourself and the organization that you represent?
Gregory Huger: Well, thank you very much, Steve, I’m delighted to be with you and your audience. Huge stands for Honduras, USA, Guatemala, and El Salvador. What it is, it’s a nonprofit 501 C-6 business association registered in Washington. DC, with the objective of facilitating and making investments, private investments, in those four countries for massive job creation. That’s the focal point of HUGE and our longer name is Think HUGE. As for myself, I have a career in the private sector where I was with John Deere, UNICAL, and Bechtel, almost all the time in developing countries and challenging ones at that. And then the other half of my career with USAID and the Peace Corps. And so, I am now delighted to be associated with the fine people of HUGE.
The Central American Group: And we were talking a little bit before we started about the participants in HUGE. Could you tell us a little bit about the organization that makes it up and what they do?
Gregory Huger: Absolutely Steve. HUGE was founded by a group of business leaders from the four countries. They had known each other through business and a little bit of social contact, mainly business contacts over the years. And they realized that the four countries are suffering from a common problem and that is the desperately low standard of living for the common people in the northern triangle, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which forces them to make that difficult journey up to the US looking for the American dream.
On the one hand, they’re driven by poverty. Also, they’re driven also by family reunification. Twenty-two percent of the Salvadoran population now lives in the US. So, it’s a little bit less for the other two. That’s another piece, and by the violence and difficult environment in which they live in their home countries. Because of these conditions, the business leaders who got together and founded HUGE in December of 2020 realized that one of the things that they were doing that helps contribute to the solution to that common problem with their countries and the people in them is to provide well-paid jobs with good working conditions and benefits and support to the families and communities in which the workers live. This is so that they can find the American dream in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador without having to go through the process of going up to the US and making it across the border.
So that was why they did it. And the objective, the idea was it is to have six from each of the Central American countries and then they upped the number of potential members from six to twelve in the United States. So, total this is a total of 30 members of whom we now have 20.
The Central American Group: That’s interesting. More specifically, you got into it a little bit, but more specifically, can you name some of the organization’s other goals, and what’s the formula that you use to achieve them?
Gregory Huger: Yeah, we’re trying to create a better image based on the reality of the private sector in the Northern Triangle and the US private sector as it works with them. There are bad apples and stories of bad things being done actually in all four countries but vary significantly over people’s impression of the Northern Triangle. And so, one of the objectives is to significantly expand responsible, noncorrupt, sustainable, and profitable businesses to instigate huge job creation in the Northern Triangle. Doing this and engaging as citizens in the public discussion to push for policies that benefit the whole country and all its people is one way to improve the image of the private sector in the area.
Another is to make investments in and push strategic regional infrastructure projects. And those would be transportation projects. So, this would include roads, airports, upgrading seaports, and border crossings. It would involve telecommunications, G Five, in particular, US G Five. Also, very importantly, energy. The countries need to have abundant, competitively priced, clean energy to be attractive and competitive and to have huge job creation in the Northern Triangle in the overall near-term situation. And we can get into this later on. We are involved with some pretty significant energy projects and the third goal is to increasingly make this group a point of reference in Washington on our issue, which is a private investment for huge job creation in the Northern Triangle.
So those are some of the broader goals that the organization has. And the formula that we have going to your question is we work in clusters. So, taking founding members who are in the same business and having them work together to define the art of the possible in terms of our mission, investment, jobs, and social sustainability. We started with the low-hanging fruit in the region and that is the textile and garment industry. We have six of our 20 members who are big players in that sector. These are companies like Parkdale Mills in the United States, Fruit of the Loom, Sandmar Intradecco and then some of the key players in the region like Architects or Caracol Knits in Honduras. They are working together and making investments to make that industry very competitive and successful in terms of our mission of facilitating huge job creation in the Northern Triangle. One of the things that they are doing is that they are investing over $550,000,000 in new projects now in the yarn spinning business. So that the yarn that is used in producing garments in Central America in the Northern Triangle comes from yarn-producing factories there and is of US origin.
This means that the yarn is covered under the Central American Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) for duty-free entry into the United States. They’re using US cotton and their joint production between US and Northern Triangle companies to produce the yarn that goes into garments that are sold in the world market.
Working with clusters to draw on the knowledge and capability of our members is a key part of it. Another example is an infrastructure group within our membership. They’re looking at projects to create huge job opportunities in the Northern Triangle. One is one of the projects that we’re working on is building a road in Guatemala that would bypass a very difficult part of the Pan American Highway. It would offer a significant improvement on road transportation there. That’s one project that’s interesting because it’s an example of a fully private project. It’s designed, built, and owned by private interests as opposed to public or even a public-private partnership. And so, we’re also working in the infrastructure area in energy. One of our founding members is in a joint venture with the US company is setting up a system for bringing compressed, not liquefied natural gas, from Louisiana on very large ships in which the hole will be filled with containers full of cylinders of compressed natural gas.
And above deck US, coming to Honduras to convert power plants that are now and have been burning heavy fuel oil to natural gas. And so, you get a lower cost, cleaner, reliable source of energy. That is a technology that can be moved to the location of the power plant that’s being converted, or if you were to build it from scratch, a new one for natural gas use. So that is an example of a major project that we’re doing. It will bring significantly bring down the cost of energy of electric power in Honduras. Another is a very large new project in Honduras that’s pump storage. It will generate 1200 megawatts of power in its initial stage and eventually go up to 3600. This is very low-cost production and alternative energy that’s totally clean because you’re pumping water from below to above and then driving turbines, very large turbines in a shaft that can produce the electricity. Without getting into all the technical details of it, that’s the kind of project that we’re working in to generate huge employment in the Northern Triangle We’re looking also at other opportunities, particularly in the context of connecting the three countries linked with the United States as an integrated platform for production.
In the nearshoring context, we’re looking at the possible creation of a logistics and manufacturing hub in the corridor between Puerto Val Barrios and Puerto Penas in Honduras. And also a project that’s been around for a long time, but looking at the Dry Canal and Alexeiko that goes from eastern El Salvador up to Porto Cortez and would be thus plugged into that corridor. So that would be if we can work through how to do it, that would be a way to link the three countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And because it’s a logistics hub, ports will have an airport linking the three of them with the United States and also link the Caribbean Atlantic with the Pacific side in El Salvador. So those are the kinds of things that our logistics and infrastructure clusters are working on. The energy projects that I mentioned are actual projects that we’ve taken on doing the corridors and the dry canal. We have not yet taken them out. We’re looking seriously at how to do it and with whom to partner and how to make that happen because that would really be a very significant asset to the region in taking advantage of the current situation in the world to make the Northern Triangle of Central America a really important manufacturing and logistics hub linked to the United States market.
I think that some of the issues with China late becoming apparent of late really push companies in that direction. So the supply chain problems and logistics problems became very evident in the covet period when you’re 2 hours by air and a short distance by sea from the US. You don’t have those. The environmental degradation caused by shipping the product from China or anywhere else in East Asia to the United States burning what they do burn, which is very polluting fuel compared to the short hop from the Northern Triangle to West Coast or East Coast. If done environmentally and logistically and financially beneficial, then another factor that we think is going to be driving the opportunity for the Northern Triangle to become a major manufacturing logistics hub is the demographics. The aging of the population of China due to the one-child policy that they’ve had for 30 years will is cutting into and will significantly cut into their labor force and their ability to be a major source of supply for so many things in the world as the world market grows. So we see in all that a real opportunity for the Northern Triangle linked with the United States to become not just for a little while, but in a very important way for a very long time, a really important manufacturing and logistics hub that would generate very good jobs and a very good standard of living for the people involved in four countries.
But very importantly, in the Northern Triangle.
The Central American Group: You’ve outlined pretty extensively the kind of relationships you have with private sector entities. Do you ever get involved with the governments of the region and to what extent?
Gregory Huger: If so, well, as I said, Huge is a private sector organization. It was a decision that the founders made upfront not to request or receive funding from any of the governments. We’re also not a lobbying organization. What we are is businesspeople that have been doing profitable, honest business in the region for a very long time and expanding that, as we’ve been discussing. Consequently, we have a pretty good idea of some of the things that could be done by governments, any of the four, to enhance the opportunities that we’re building. So, we have ongoing conversations with the US. Government. We’ve been very close to the Under Secretary of State who’s got a real interest in the region and has been open to hearing what our businesspeople have to say about what it would take and what the US can do to develop the external environment, industry or other industries in the context of the Northern Triangle in the US. We have those kinds of conversations on an ongoing basis, sharing at the request of the US government the experience and the ideas that the business people have.
We also are in the process now of working with a Central American university called INCAE, which is a major business school that’s been in operating for a long time now in Costa Rica. So, they’re a very respected, capable, and a neutral player in the discussion of economic opportunity. They are working in conjunction with us, but they’re really doing it to analyze what are the things that the business community and the data indicate could be done to maximize the opportunity for huge job creation in the Northern Triangle linked with the United States to develop economically and to create the opportunity for the people that you and I have been talking about. So that’ll be another link with the governments. We will be able to refer to the INCAE study and objectively discuss the benefits of doing some of the things that would come from that in terms of if this were to happen. We would be able to mobilize this much investment in this kind of business to create this kind of opportunity. So that would be the relationship that we have with the governments as an apolitical organization.
The Central American Group: How do you see HUGE’s relationship with civil society organizations in the countries that it has interactions with?
Gregory Huger: Well, I take it in two pieces. One is the business associations in each of the countries, all four of the countries have civil society organizations that know a lot about our subject in their context. In fact, many of our members are officers in those organizations or will be. There are also excellent think tanks in the region, so Fusades in El Salvador, one in Guatemala, and others. Then ones like the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the United States. So, there’s a network of think tanks and foundations that are important civil society players. There are also universities and non-governmental organizations that are involved with our subject and have developed, many of them, a very deep knowledge of how to do this successfully and with a sustainable, positive, long-term impact on people in place. We have created a Social Impact Advisory Council and we’re starting with some of our members and some of the people that work on corporate responsibility issues. We are now reaching out to civil society organizations of the kind that I just mentioned and so asking them to join our Advisory Council and to bring to the discussion their knowledge of best practices in the socioeconomic, environmental, ethical, and anti-corruption spaces. Then we would be able, through our council to share best practices as applied in our region in this kind of business with our own members and also with new investors coming into the region who would adhere to these principles and strive to have a positive impact on society and planet but have not done it in the Northern Triangle.
Our people have been doing it for a very long time and in collaboration with civil society through our advisory council, who will be able to help in a very hands-on way to new investors focusing on how to do effect huge job creation in the Northern Triangle.
The Central American Group: Well, Greg, we’ve covered a lot of ground here. One thing that’s common is our receipt of questions from listeners to our podcast. And what we like to do is include the contact information for the folks that we speak with. So, if one of our listeners or more have questions for you, how might they go about getting in contact with you so that they can ask them?
Gregory Huger: Delighted. My email is the best way firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Central American Group: Thank you. And we’ll have that in the transcript that we placed below the recording. Additionally, if it’s okay with you, we can put a link to your LinkedIn profile and your website.
Gregory Huger: Very good. I appreciate that.
The Central American Group: Thanks for joining me today. We at the Central American Group wish you great luck in everything that you’re doing in Central America.
Gregory Huger: Steve, thank you very much and I wish you all the best too, and to your audience. Thank you. Have a good evening. Bye.
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