San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Selling Costa Rica

President Laura Chinchilla rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday morning, kicking off an important day for promoting – and securing – foreign direct investment in Costa Rica.

Chinchilla, who is rounding up a weeklong tour in New York City with the primary goal of sparking investors’ interest in Costa Rica, then gave a brief speech to hundreds of stockbrokers as she stood on the podium hovering over the world’s busiest trading floor.

“There are many U.S. companies that are working and investing in our country,” Chinchilla said in her accented English. “We will always have our doors open to these companies.”

Chinchilla touted Costa Rica’s recent upgrade on the Moody’s Investors Service scale to sound investment territory. Earlier this month, Moody’s upgraded the country’s credit rating from speculative to stable after the country had weathered the external shocks of the worldwide economic crisis in relatively good condition. Moody’s also projects that foreign investment here will be stable in the coming years, helping the country address its fiscal deficit.

“We are very, very proud to say that very recently we received an upgrade from Moody’s and we have earned a high investment grade,” Chinchilla said. “That means that we are in very good shape and we are working very hard in order to continue inviting U.S. companies to invest in our country.”

Later in the day, Emerson, a St. Louis, Missouri-based technology company that opened an engineering plant in Costa Rica in 2008, announced that it will invest $2.3 million to construct a new building in the Multipark free-trade zone in Guachipelín, in

the western San José suburb of Escazú. The company plans to hire 150 new employees before the end of 2011. Emerson’s existing plant is in Heredia, north of San José.

“The announcement that Emerson will be expanding its operations in the upcoming months is confirmation that there continue to be companies interested in investing in Costa Rica and growing their already existing operations,” Chinchilla said upon learning of Emerson’s investment commitment.

Chinchilla has also been visiting top media offices in New York, grabbing headlines among financial publications for the country’s new investment rating and economic growth prospects. Business newswire Bloomberg reported that, thanks in part to the recent upbeat Moody’s report, Costa Rica is poised to make its first bond sale since 2004. A report by the Reuters news service highlighted Costa Rica’s free-trade efforts, steadily increasing export figures, anticipated 4.5 percent economic growth in 2010, and high dollar returns on foreign direct investment, which accounted for $1.3 billion in 2009.

Chinchilla’s week also included an interview with the daily The Wall Street Journal and a speech at the United Nations. Chinchilla was also interviewed by CNN reporter Rick Sanchez during his afternoon program “Rick’s List.”  

Sanchez, who displayed his Latino roots during the interview, switching between English and Spanish, asked Chinchilla if she felt the U.S. opinion of Latin America was fair. He said, “The idea that many Americans have of Latin America is drugs, leftist movements and insurgences.” He repeated the remark, this time in Spanish, to make sure she understood. 

Chinchilla responded by highlighting the positive elements of the country and explaining how Costa Rica differentiates itself from the chaotic reputation of other parts of the region.

“The amazing thing about Costa Rica is that we are a very small country (but) we have been a very successful story,” she said. “We have been able to achieve impressive economic growth with human development, social commitment and protecting the environment.”

During the nearly six-minute interview, Chinchilla repeatedly touched upon the positive attributes of Costa Rica, including the lack of a military, the country’s commitment to education, the environment and democracy. According to Chinchilla, these are the reasons investors continue to choose Costa Rica when considering ventures in Latin America.

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