The Central American Group: Hello and welcome to another installation of the Central American Group’s series of podcasts in which we speak with individuals that have expertise in doing business in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and, for that matter, the rest of Central America. In this episode, we are going to touch upon some of the issues related to industrial site selection in Costa Rica. Today we have a gentleman with us by the name Juan Carlos Corrales. Juan Carlos, could you please introduce yourself, tell us about yourself and about the company you represent?
Juan Carlos Corrales: Hi, Steven. Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to speak. I’m Juan Carlos Corrales. I’m a partner and project manager for a construction company here in Costa Rica named Clean Construction. We have been doing business in Costa Rica for about 11 years. Our focus is mainly in the area of doing the development of industrial projects. We deal with the specific need to create clean environment rooms specialized in manufacturing components and finished goods for the medical devices, technology, and pharmaceutical industries here in Costa Rica.
I’m a civil engineer and I have been working with the company since its startup back in 2011. We have been operating in clean construction in Costa Rica as this is a specialized market. The company has experience of more than thirty-five years in dealing with companies that have completed industrial site selection in Costa Rica. Thus, we have quite a few people on board with the company.
The Central American Group: You’ve been involved with industry and Costa Rica quite a bit. From your perspective, why should a company go through the process of industrial site selection in Costa Rica and decide to establish manufacturing operations there?
Juan Carlos Corrales: there are several key factors that position Costa Rica as an interesting option for any type of international manufacturing investment. First of all, I would say that it’s a country that is politically stable. Its government has a clear understanding of the importance of competitive economic policies that are necessary to attract foreign investment. Also, I would say that Costa Rica has a privileged location as well as being such a small country with relatively quick access to ports in both the Pacific and the Caribbean. In terms of logistics, Costa Rica has good access from the country’s capital, San Jose. I think that gives the country a privileged scenario that improves the feasibility of doing exports and imports of different goods here.
Thirdly, I would say the governance of the country has understood that since that investment in education is key to building a solid, capable, and professional workforce to attend to the increasing demand of present and hopefully future market needs. One of the main checkboxes for those conducting industrial site selection in Costa Rica has to do with education. The country is working on these three aspects continuously and that gives us good positioning to capture these types of operations.
The Central American Group: It seems that, over the last two decades or so, life sciences and medical devices have really assumed a place of prominence in the Costa Rican manufacturing industry. Do you have any insights that you could share with us as to why that’s been the case?
Juan Carlos Corrales: From my experience, I can communicate what I’ve seen in the last decade. I would say that it’s mainly related to the third point that I just mentioned in your previous question. I think it’s mainly related to the high quality of labor force that we’ve been able to produce in Costa Rica. Any company, I would say, can find top-rate professionals. This is a bilingual educated workforce. Along with the federal government, the private sector, in general, has invested in generating programs to educate. As I mentioned earlier, an educated workforce is one of the most important things that those doing site selection in Costa Rica seek.
Most of the population and mainly the lower-income segments of the society here that don’t have access to university degrees, for example, have access to training and preparation in technical and technology-based disciplines. That gives us a lot of exposure in to develop different skills that are required by the life science sector for manufacturing their components. Therefore, those companies can find a great labor force to staff their operations.
The Central American Group: I think it’s important to note that over the last couple of decades, Costa Rica has been the second-largest exporter of medical devices in Latin America after Mexico. There’s been an awful lot of success in this industry. What can you tell us about the importance of construction project development after the site selection in Costa Rica has been done? It’s a key part of establishing operations in a country. What insights can you give us with regard to its importance?
Juan Carlos Corrales: Yes, thank you for the question. It seems that when you think of transferring operations to a new country, usually you’re always thinking about the process for manufacturing and all those aspects related to the production of the particular good that any company will bring here to Costa Rica or transfer from the states or wherever they are moving their operations. However, generally to access the different benefits provided by a free trade zone regime here in Costa Rica, which is what most companies come looking for besides the labor that we just talked about in the country. It’s an incentive that brings investment to Costa Rica.
But it’s also required that there be an investment early on in the transfer process from each of these companies. After the site selection in Costa Rica is done, construction project development usually is an important part of the investment. In my years of experience, I have seen that some companies tend to overlook this part of the process. At the end of the day, we manage all the processes that are needed for the plant’s good and proper operation and of the production of that results in the production of final goods.
Having the project on track from the start and knowing that project development is an important part of the investment that you can back up with our institutions here in Costa Rica will help you to gain approval of the free trade zone regime.
The Central American Group: Given the fact that you do a lot of work with life sciences and medical device manufacturers, I’m imagining that you must. install quite a few clean rooms. What kind of advice you could lend to people that that do need that technology installed in their building?
Juan Carlos Corrales: Sure. Well, from my professional perspective, I could say at least there are three important aspects to consider. One you are trying to develop higher education in the country with this type of needs a first location. I think establishing a high-quality, client-driven workforce is really important to support the future operation of the facility. Having electrical power and redundancy for the project and good access to utilities. I think that’s key. I would say that it is the second most important aspect.
Remember that we have been doing these types of projects since the 1990s. However, accessibility to equipment, architectural elements, and certified cleanroom materials is not something that we can achieve overnight after companies have done their site selection in Costa Rica. It takes time to bring all of the imported items. So, it is really important to plan the development of these projects ahead of time as much as possible. I always know that I noticed that always there is a really constrained time span for the projects, but as much time as you can get to develop it, the better.
On the same note, and not many companies are aware that the requirement for building permits here in the country. They usually take some months to obtain. Getting ready for construction in the early stages of that transfer or establishing process is key to meeting the timing goals of any project. The last one, which may sound funny, I would say it’s climate. The country has one of the most enviable, climates in the world, and it’s really stable and everything.
But and most cleanroom operations require humidity control. I have seen in all my years that many companies overlook the important issue of controlling humidity in a tropical country. You have to consider that it’s usually over 70 percent relative humidity on the inside. This can be a little bit tricky. So is a super important issue to be aware of during the early stages of the design for the project because if not, it can become a costly headache down the road.
The Central American Group: Well, those are good tips. I imagine that, in addition to actually doing the project management and implementing the installation of cleanrooms, you help firms and guide them through the process of getting the needed permits and licenses after the site selection in Costa Rica has concluded. Is that another thing that you offer as a service?
Juan Carlos Corrales: Yes, sir, we do. We offer three types of different services. We can do a turnkey project. We can do project management, and we can do design and build services. We assist the customer throughout the entire process of establishing themselves in Costa Rica.
The Central American Group: You mean a one-stop shop. Right?
Juan Carlos Corrales: Exactly.
The Central American Group: It’s been very interesting hearing about your activities in Costa Rica and your explanation of the benefits of establishing manufacturing facilities. The discussion has been an informative one.
Usually, when we publish our podcasts, we get questions from people that have listened to them who want to know more specific information. So how would somebody that has a question that is able to get answers?
How can listeners contact you?
Juan Carlos Corrales: You may contact us by company email (email@example.com), and you can find their contact information on our website: www.cleancocr.net. I can tell you that the info or if anyone wants to access the website directly. I’ll send you that link so that you can share it with your audience.
The Central American Group: OK, we’ll include a link to your website with the transcript that’s below the audio file on the website, and I’m guessing you have a LinkedIn profile as well.
Juan Carlos Corrales: Yes, I do. I can share that with you as well.
The Central American Group: Yes. If you want to contact Juan Carlos, those are the ways that you can do it. Well, Juan Carlos, I want to thank you for joining me today and hopefully, we’ll have other opportunities to talk more.
Juan Carlos Corrales: Thank you, Steven.