Costa Rica’s national strategy

By Homero Contreras

If we check out the strategic case of Costa Rica, we might learn some useful lessons that any country might apply; and the strategic issues of Costa Rica can be applied by industrial engineers, because our profession is not isolated from the national or local strategies.

This country has been an example of stability and democracy in Latin America; it does not have a permanent army and it is a small country; however, it has excelled in strategic planning, and it is an example of developing country. Costa Rica decided to focus the strategy on clusters, specifically on an I.T. cluster around the company Intel, which has brought prosperity for the country.

Intel, a global leader company in microprocessors, had strong requirements: highly qualified people (requiring important investments in education); short time inspections on customs (at most, two hours, when Costa Rica was delaying up to two weeks), and so on. Costa Rica should also provide a suitable infrastructure, excellent roads and a confident electric network for the processes used by Intel, among many other issues. So, the country decided to provide all these requirements, so they could get the approval from Intel for the new wafer facility. All these issues required process redesign and simplification; development of infrastructure and qualified engineers, in areas as I.T., manufacturing, construction, etc., and all the projects developed around the desire to settle Intel in Costa Rica led to new jobs, economic development and a new sensation of country proud to be exported to the world.

The most important lesson comes from the strategy and future vision of the then-President Figueres, who determined three premises:

  • A program of social investments on health, education and housing
  • Take care of natural resources, nature and promote the natural parks.
  • Economic policies which support the country to compete worldwide.

Ideas are simple, but not its execution. However, President Figueres achieved these ideas, and the strategy he followed has excellent results. What can we, industrial engineers, do to support similar ideas in countries, both rich and developing, like Mexico (where I live)? There are largest, richest countries, with more natural resources, which have not take advantage of them.

If you have the chance to read the Harvard Business School case about Costa Rica, I suggest you to do that. We all can learn a lot of this case.