Special Report on Haiti's CODEVI Park

Like most of you, I travel a lot. Seldom do I fly into someone else’s vision, one that moved mountains beyond mountains, as in Fernando Capellan thinking he might be able to build a unique industrial park in Haiti, now called CODEVI. I just got back from his park. Here’s the story.

Since early 2001, I have traveled this hemisphere, top to bottom, recruiting apparel, textile and trim producers, as well as industry services, into the AAPN. On one of those trips in 2008, I visited Grupo M in Santiago, DR and, from there, was given a tour of their industrial park, CODEVI, in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, on the DR border. Nine years later, I returned to the park on Monday August 7.

My tour in 2008 - 5 buildings:

My tour on Monday, August 7 - 17 buildings and more coming:

CODEVI is owned by Fernando Capellan’s Grupo M, a private apparel manufacturer founded in 1986, vertically integrated, in the Dominican Republic producing knits and woven products for the U.S. market. Fernando opened the park in August 2003, five years prior to my tour in 2008. It remains the biggest socio-economic project of the area and the largest employer in the country’s northern region. But it wasn’t easy.

Map of CODEVI:

You see, Haiti and the DR are different countries and cultures with next to no history of industrial collaboration. Each nation has a population of approximately 10 million people. Haiti itself is among the low cost countries of the world. The industry added to that competitive advantage with trade laws and FTA’s such as HELP /HOPE that granted use of foreign fabric and duty free access to the US, Europe and Canada and of course proximity. Port au Prince became the epicenter of factories in Haiti until CODEVI.

The project had the standard issues you run into when starting in a foreign country - legal framework, identifying a location for the installation, financing, infrastructure, construction, training and so much more. Still, what drove it was an unwavering vision.

Fernando’s vision was of a park that consolidated Haitian labor in quantity and cost competitive, on the border, meeting Haitian law, bringing in Dominican expertise, supported by modern a infrastructure. It could export from a more modern and closer Dominican port such as Manzanillo which is only 20 min away from the park and will help to further shorten Lead-times and Logistics, had better contracts from Grupo M. How is it going?

With income comes investment in new transportation:

CODEVI started with 4 million square feet of land. On my 2008 trip, there were 5 buildings and 3,000 people. On Monday of this week, I saw 17 buildings and 10,000 people. The names of the brands (Levi’s, GAP Inc., Under Armour, Hanes, Fruit Of the Loom, Carhartt, Jockey among others) and the owners of factories there are global players (USA, Sri Lanka, China to name a few)...…..and they do not invest lightly. They commit for years by building a factory from scratch, from the ground up for the long haul. That’s the ‘vision’ part of this report.

A new factory, with the air made cool by an ingenious water spray technology:

As Grupo M's Joseph Blumberg told us during our tour, “the starting point of the park was high. We applied the proven formula of Grupo M which is that compliance is in the DNA of everything we do". Every detail of energy, training, social responsibility, environment, basic health, cooking, child education, transportation, safety and financial responsibility was taken 10,000 times - for every employee.

Carlos Arias Winds Group; Paolo Chiappina Bureau Veritas; Rick Horwitch Bureau Veritas; Mike Todaro AAPN; Joseph Blumberg Grupo M

Take an employee. To be considered for hiring they have to be able to read, write and perform basic math. In a country with over 50% unemployment (and often much higher), this makes the job competitive. When hired, each person receives 3 months of training at half pay and with full benefits. When hired, they can exceed 40% minimum wage with incentives.

Prospects for jobs lined up waiting to be escorted into the park:

You have to believe that in 2003 when this broke ground, the area was extremely basic, hand to mouth, no formal economy. Today the community is served by CODEVI’s radio and TV station, alerting the community to disease outbreaks, showing entertainment and educating everyone. Does one need more evidence that savings? In 2003 no-one saved. Today over 90% of CODEVI’s 10,000 people participate in the park’s Savings and Loan Club.

Today, walking through the town of Ouanaminthe wearing your CODEVI badge is a sign of status. As one article on the park said, "Capellan does not take all the credit for the company’s success. "We believe that this success is due to the fact that the 10,000 employees identify with the work they do. Everyone has the opportunity to receive training and to improve his family’s quality of life.”

Sewing operators in the Mazava factory:

Blumberg said, “we pick the companies who invest here carefully”. I think its the other way around. It is the only Dominican project in Haiti and it proves the value of the synergy each nation and its people bring to the table - motivated workers in a structured highly efficient production center.

Finally, make no mistake, this is not just Dominicans and Haitians either. There may be over a dozen nationalities working in multiple levels of management throughout the park. As a result, there is a collocated campus of apartments and even a hotel to support the traffic into the park. As for the park itself, it may soon grow from its 4 million square feet to nearly 10 million!

This will include a “MicroPark” right across the bridge that they built to connect the park to the town. It will be 600 thousand square feet of a sort of Town Center with a vocational school, fully equipped clinic, Food Court, housing and recreational facilities. All of this is a part of a bigger picture being developed by the Bi-National Economic Council (CEBQ) with Private sectors of both countries working side-by-side on a range of projects along the whole border to impact the economies and progress of both Haiti and the DR.

Vision? Visions are pictures from the ends of albums of photos of other visions that hit the wall. As they say, its a dream until its put into writing, then its a plan. CODEVI was put into writing and Grupo M never changed a word of it because the plan was to ‘do it right from the start’. Plus, trust me when I conclude they practice what Cormac McCarthy wrote in THE ROAD, "If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.”

Many thanks to Fernando Capellan and Joseph Blumberg for a highly intense day spent smack inside their vision and for their long term membership in and support of the AAPN.

Grupo M's AAPN Membership Plaque, member# 1271, since 2001:

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