Limón gets a development agency to spark growth

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Limón Centro has always been a community that did not share fully in the country’s wealth.

The municipality of Limón has unveiled it’s new development agency which has the goal of preparing the community for all the positive changes that are expected to come to the province.

The Agencia para el Desarrollo de Limón is composed of citizens who came together from various sectors. The members include entrepreneurs, investors, academics and representatives of public institutions.  They stand to better the providence by investing in the region, according to a presentation Thursday.

“Public and private investments have been approved for nearly five billion dollars in Limon,” said Luis Guillermo Rodríguez, board president. “This is an extraordinarily high figure which could transform the productive and social life of the province by generating direct and indirect jobs and attracting new businesses in other fields. But all that wonder will only be real if we prepare to take advantage of these opportunities.

The first plan is a three-phase project where APM Terminals will build a $1 billion container handling project at the port of Moín.  In the end, the revamped port will have a marina and docks for cruise ships.  The area will be equipped with hotels, recreation areas, stores, transport services and a beach area.

In addition to the APM Terminal project, the agency members are quick to point out other changes that are coming to the area. These include a $1.5 billion petroleum refinery and a $199 million petroleum port, a new Limón-Río Frio highway across the top of the country estimated to cost $420 million and a new free zone project that will cost about $50 million.

In addition, the government has proposed and is carrying out the Projecto Limón Ciudad Puerto, which is an $80 million investment to modernize the infrastructure in the community.

The agency also notes on its Web site that a new industrial park proposed by the government of China is still in negotiations.

The new Moín terminal will be able to handle more than two million containers a year, according to plans.

Rogelio Douglas, APM general manager for Moín, said the company still has to do six months of scientific studies and secure more permits.  Construction should begin in the middle of 2013 with the first phase finished and inaugurated in 2016.

“It’s not a revolution. It’s an evolution.  It will produce the hard work the city needs,” he said.

APM will put up 60 percent of estimated $1 billion cost, while the rest will be borrowed from financial institutions.

“We have plans that show we will recuperate all our investment and profit,” Douglas said.

Finishing the next two phases will be contingent on how fast business grows.  The company has a 30-year concession period, so at worst it would be finished in 30 years, he said.

The reason for the push is because, as Costa Rica grows, Limón has been continuously left behind, said Rodríguez.

The boom in the Central Valley region can be attributed to the way the area has been able to diversify their economy, he said. Before it was a big exporter of coffee, but now it has advanced, and due to companies like Intel Corp., the Central Valley exports microchips and medical supplies, said Douglas.

Limón, unfortunately, has been stuck in a time warp.

“100 years ago we were a big exporter of bananas, and today we are still an exporter of bananas,” said Douglas. “There are no other multinationals coming in. That’s why you see so much poverty and unemployment.”

Currently those in Limón do not have a lot of options, he said. The new developments will give the young who want to study different areas a boost, he said, adding that growth will also open up options for women. He was speaking at the Restaurante El Faro in Limón Centro where the new development agency was discussed.

The idea is that after investors notice the new port, they will want to take part in the development process.

“Investors will say “Look at that region. It has to be a good place if APM will put $1 billion on the table.’ With this port we hope to attract more business.”

Still, the general manager realizes that the reputation of Limón being a dangerous place has to be overcome if this business model is going to succeed.

This, he said, is going to be done as the economy builds up because high-class hotels and restaurants will begin to move in the area.

Also, goals of the development agency includes modernizing the airport and cruise terminals as well as revitalizing downtown.

As tourists begin to feel more comfortable, they will spread the word about Limón being a good tourist destination, he said.

“In five to 10 years this place is going to be booming, literally,” he said.

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