President Luis Guillermo of Costa Rica touts business climate in Charlotte visit

Luis Guillermo Solis, president of Costa Rica
Luis Guillermo Solis, president of Costa Rica

When you think about Costa Rica, lazy beaches and rain forests probably come to mind. But Costa Rican president Luis Guillermo Solis wants you to think of something else, too: business.

Solis visited Charlotte Thursday as part of a U.S. trip to promote trade. Speaking at a meeting of the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, Solis touted his country’s investment in infrastructure, proximity to the States and political stability and security as good reasons to invest there.

Solis also announced a partnership with the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis that will allow Costa Rican scientists to train at the facility, which focuses on nutrition and food science research.

L.J. Stambuk, president of the council, said Solis was just the second sitting international head of state to visit Charlotte and called the day “historic.”

Here are a few takeaways from Solis’ talk:

▪ Costa Rica is relatively close to Charlotte: With direct flights from Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the country is about four hours away. David Dalton, chief executive of Mooresville-based General Microcircuits, operates a manufacturing facility in Costa Rica. He told the crowd it was far easier and more convenient to access than Asia.

▪ One-third of the country has been set aside as national parks: “One thing I hear is ‘How can you have a conservation regime such as that and continue to develop?’” Solis said. He said the country is making it work by emphasizing renewable energy, which can provide most of Costa Rica’s needs, especially through hydroelectric sources.

▪ Costa Rica emphasizes education: “We have a 95 percent literacy rate,” said Solis, who said his country spends more on education, having abolished the army as a standing institution in 1949.

▪ Despite stability, growth and focus on education, poverty is still a big problem: Solis said that 21 percent of the country’s population of 5 million is considered poor or extremely poor. “Structural poverty has been a problem for generations,” Solis said. “It’s an economic problem, a social problem, and also a moral problem.”

▪ Costa Rica isn’t just exporting bananas and coffee: Solis said medical devices – not the agricultural products Costa Rica is known for – are the country’s top export now.