By Jacqueline Charles
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As Haitian and foreign officials laid the first stone of a new 605-acre industrial park on a bulldozed bean field this week, they heralded it as not just a foundation for job creation, but a new model for economic development.
“Haiti says ‘Thank you’ to everyone who helped; those who brought us food or water. But the Haitian people want this to change,” said Martelly, who has promised to create 500,000 jobs in three years. “Today, this is the kind of investment model we need from Haiti’s friends. With this kind of model, you allow Haitians to regain their pride.”
The government has promised to support several investor-friendly policies, including reducing business registration from 150 days to 10 and construction permits from three years to 60 days; reinforce a one-stop investment center designed to support business start-ups and launch a new InvestinHaiti website. It will also form a joint task force with the IDB to follow up on the conference.
Haiti backers say if a fraction of the promises are kept, the nation would finally be able to get rid of its image as one of the worst places in the region to do business based on the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation annual rankings.
Haiti did get some good investments news. Two hotel deals were signed: a $45 million, 173-room Marriott in the Turgeau neighborhood; and a $47-million, 250-room hotel near the airport. They are among more than a half-dozen hotel expansions and construction projects under way.
Also announced by the IDB, France and Clinton Foundation is a deal to help 10,000 Haitian coffee growers improve the quality of their product through a partnership with the Colombian Coffee Federation and NESTLE. The government of Haiti also signed an agreement with LS Cable and Systems, a Korean firm that wants to manufacture medium and high voltage cables in Haiti.
Joseph Whinney, a chocolate maker from Seattle, said he is strongly considering doing business in Haiti.
“I’d always been resistant to doing anything here because of the political climate. Now that it seems to be moving in the right direction, I felt it was time for us to come and make a difference,” said Whinney, who buys cocoa from neighboring Dominican Republic.
“This is not for every investor,” IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno told The Miami Herald. “When I sit down with business people, as I have done here, they are really moved by the cost (of doing business) in Haiti,” he said. “You need to understand there is going to be something beyond profits.”
But profits are not all that bad, former President Bill Clinton said as he challenged “skeptics” to team up with local businesses.
“We just want you to make money in a way that helps the Haitians, too,” Clinton said.