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The new Caracol Industrial Park opened Monday in northern Haiti, with Korean apparel manufacturer Sae-A Trading Co. as the anchor tenant.
Sae-A has pledged to create 20,000 permanent jobs within six years and build 5,000 houses. Backers say the entire park has the potential to generate up to 65,000 jobs in total.
According to Rick Helfenbein, president of Luen Thai USA, who was on hand for the event, the opening sends a strong message that Haiti is slowly rebuilding from the devastating 2010 earthquake.
“It was truly an uplifting and eye-opening experience,” Helfenbein said. “The factory is a very modern facility, with state-of-the-art equipment, and is quite impressive.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton were there to lend their support, as were Sean Penn and Ben Stiller, and Donna Karan, who has devoted much time and funding to rebuild Haiti’s craft industries.
The Clintons encouraged foreigners to invest in Haiti, and the $124 million put in by the U.S. is the biggest investment in the aftermath of the quake. The Caracol project was in the works before the earthquake but it became a top priority for the Obama administration soon after the disaster.
“We have been united behind a single goal — making investments in this country’s people and your infrastructure that help put Haiti finally on the path to broad-based economic growth with a more vibrant private sector and less dependence on foreign assistance,” Hillary Clinton said at the opening. “And we believe that our work here in Haiti and here in the north is beginning to show results.”
The industrial park was built on a 617-acre site meant to move Haiti’s economy away from the crowded capital of Port-au-Prince. It offers duty-free status and a 15-year tax holiday.
Clinton said homes that have never had electricity before are now powered by a 10 million-megawatt thermal plant, which will eventually benefit as many as 100,000 people with 25 million megawatts of energy. She said, “In a country where today 12 percent of the people have regular and legal access to the grid, that is a truly game-changing accomplishment. Plans for a new container port are also moving forward, with a team of engineers, marine biologists, and economists working together.”
On top of help from the State Department, the former president’s Clinton Global Initiative and the Inter-American Development Bank have contributed several hundred million dollars to rebuilding Haiti, in addition to myriad other charitable contributions.
A spokesman for Sae-A said the company has made an $85 million investment so far, and is employing 1,050 people currently, with plans to expand that to 1,500 by the end of the year. Production lines have been running since June 1, with four lines to start and a forecast of 24 by year’s end.
A local paint manufacturing company, Peintures Caraibes SA, became the second tenant in July and will export paint made by Sherwin Williams along with its own paint; production begins next month. It hopes to hire 350 people. A third tenant from the neighboring Dominican Republic was revealed Monday: D’Clase Apparel, which has investments in clothing and footwear, aims to create 5,000 jobs in two years.