Cartagena was once a tempting target for pirates, with Sir Francis Drake ransacking the Caribbean port in 1585 before agreeing to spare the picturesque city for COP10 million worth of booty. It is now enjoying a more welcome invasion in the form of an unprecedented investment boom that is predicted to bring $10 billion of private and public funds into the city between 2005 and 2015.
Cartagena’s location on the Caribbean coast is a major natural advantage, with recent increases in Colombia’s overseas trade naturally boosting activity at its many ports. Investment commitments are set to continue this trend with Argos cement company, for instance, spending $400 million on its Cartagena plant to meet increased demand from Central America and the United States.
Rodrigo Salazar, head of the Colombian Industrial Association ANDI for the Cartagena region (Bolivar department) told Colombia Reports that “exporters are experiencing a completely favorable situation” with $640 million having been invested in local port infrastructure in recent years. Production in Cartagena jumped 8.2% on the previous year in the first quarter of 2010, outpacing the national average of 5.7%.
The centerpiece of the new wave of investment is a $4 billion extension to the Reficar oil refinery that will give Colombia a greater capacity to ship petrol, matching the rapid growth in its oil extraction industry. Foreign companies are also playing their part in Cartagena’s boom, with brewing giant SABMiller and US chemical multinational Dow both owning private ports, and the latter contributing to a new $1.17 billion investment.
Tourism is following the upwards trajectory of the industrial sector with Colombian families, European honeymooners and Australian backpackers easy to find on any given afternoon strolling the narrow streets of the old town or relaxing in the open grandeur of the beach district. Uruguayan youth hostel chain El Viajero took advantage of greater visitors by opening a 96-bed residence in Cartagena’s old town at the start of September and have had impressive occupancy rates of between 80 and 90% since.
Ana Lucía Lecompte, head of the Cartagena chamber of commerce, explained to business magazine Dinero that the city “is the fourth industrial city in Colombia but aiming to be in the top two.” A problem that could hold Cartagena back in this ambition is excessive bureaucracy, which contributed to the city being rated 21 out of 22 Colombian places in a national “Doing Business” index. Lecompte added though that plans were being made to ease this burden and boost local competitiveness.