Promoting prosperity through free trade zones

Free trade zones are an ideal place in which to set up a new business, providing an environment where organisations can flourish financially and bolster social practices as part of a collaborative network.

Each day, in both the minds of citizens and in organisations of all kinds, the concept of sustainability is becoming more and more significant. This is being catalysed by younger generations, who appear far more concerned with ethical practices than their elders were.

At present, we know that the success of organisations, regardless of their industry or size, depends in large measure on how they treat the people affiliated with their business. This means the shareholders, customers, workers, suppliers, government and the community in which they operate. It has never been more important for organisations to ensure they can meet increasingly demanding corporate governance requirements. Fortunately however, one way they can do this is through using free trade zones.

Free trade zones

The Santander Free Zone (SFZ) has become a regional centre of development in Colombia and the wider South American community. We have successfully promoted competitiveness in the region through attracting local investment, creating employment opportunities and driving sustainable policies. We are especially committed to promoting companies that are responsible in their business practices; we welcome them into our community so they can forge connections with others and expand their social and environmental activities.

In a financial sense, free trade zones benefit organisations enormously by providing a supportive space in which companies can grow and help each other. In turn, this also means Colombia prospers economically. What’s more, free trade zones can attract some of the best talent from a diverse range of industries, while it can also assist those who choose them as a place to work. At SFZ, we have numerous permanent positions, as well as training opportunities, to spur on professional development and ensure talent retention in the area. All the while, SFZ aims to promote cleaner production methods, which can be taken up by the companies settled there.

The inception of Santander

SFZ was conceived as a business park and designed to generate wealth in the Santander region of Colombia. The purpose of our corporate social responsibility programme at SFZ is to generate a positive and sustainable impact over time through the articulation of our management, with social and environmental expectations of the members of the SFZ community and its groups of interest. Every company that comes to SFZ is committed to our vision, which aims to encourage sustainability through healthy business practices at all times.

The teams that operate within the free trade zone subscribe to the holistic concept of ‘doing well by doing good’. This mantra means involving oneself in activities that promote the happiness of others. These words have inspired workers at the site, helped Colombia to succeed in a competitive world, and enhanced the wellbeing of people in the wider area. Each organisation within the SFZ believes that personal development, social progress and the efficient use of environmental resources are all important to achieving sustainable economic growth.

In this regard, SFZ has strong guidelines to direct the management and the community of the growing number of companies that operate in the area. Firstly, organisations are asked to align their business objectives towards the wider social and environmental philosophy of the free trade zone. Second, they are required to understand the needs and expectations of different members of the community so they are able to accommodate them. Third, they are asked to come up with a scalable and inclusive management plan that covers the participation of all relevant parties. Lastly, SFZ also aims to promote good practices within the community with regards to governance, environmental sustainability, working conditions and human rights.

SFZ intends to generate an environment that offers opportunities for highquality, permanent jobs. We want it to be a place where people can grow both personally and professionally; where they can innovate, learn and enjoy each day. To achieve this objective, we work hand in hand with our users and with the support of our public and private allies.

Moreover, SFZ wants to focus on the development of Colombia and the wider region. One of the major reasons behind the creation of a free trade zone is to build a competitive and sustainable platform for organisations, but also to contribute positively to the region’s presence on the global stage. Therefore, we are continually working towards the promotion of new investments, both domestic and foreign, that generate a multiplier effect in terms of employment, social welfare and economic development. Additionally, we promote the interaction and collaboration of existing users with users of other zones.

Ensuring sustainability

At SFZ, we have identified the importance of design to promote the zone’s aims as a business hub and leader in sustainability. When the site was first developed, its architects had environmental concerns at the forefront of their minds. It was also designed to ensure that companies coming in and out of the zone could share and adopt existing environmental practices. All of these aspects meet regulations in Colombia and also act as a strategic tool for businesses.

It is essential that the SFZ community partakes in global efforts to cut carbon emissions and ensures that the human impact on the land is reduced as much as possible. To do this, there are now eco-efficient processes in the park, as well as a culture that promotes environmental sustainability. SFZ constantly raises awareness of what best practices can be used and encourages its community to turn to natural resources whenever possible. Indeed, there is much enthusiasm for sustainability efforts across the area.

Thanks to this approach, SFZ’s offshoring and outsourcing park has a relevant inventory of achievements and accomplishments after six years in operation. It has some of the finest service users around, who take on board the message of inclusivity, sustainability and a commitment to job creation. Interestingly, our space has offered a lot of first jobs to young people, with many also using the area for higher education purposes. Educational institutions can be found in the park, including SENA (the National Vocational Training Agency) and the Santo Tomas University, which encourage professional and academic development on site.

The companies that use SFZ have created social networks and other initiatives to spread information that can help wouldbe employees find a job there. An online portal, shared with universities and other local authorities, means members of the Colombian population can look for jobs any time they need to

Regional development

So far at SFZ, there have been 30 new companies created, four of which were born off the back of foreign investment. Together with supporting organisations, there are 51 companies, and these have generated more than 1,500 highquality jobs. A significant number of these organisations collaborate and create partnerships with one another in order to enhance the SFZ community.

Additionally, we are working together with the Chamber of Commerce of Bucaramanga and the Regional Commission of Competitiveness to design and create better strategies to increase competition in the region. We want to promote bilingualism and international awareness of Co- lombia, in order to drive competition in the area. SFZ is part of a group of pioneers in Colombia that voluntarily calculates its carbon footprint. In 2016 we received the certification of Greenhouse Gas Verification, which has become one of the key influencers in the decisionmaking and environmental management strategy of the company. We operate a wastewater treatment plant with optimum levels of removal, and have achieved a level of 30 percent of waste use. We also implement energy-efficient projects, and projects on biodiversity and business.

In 2015 and 2016, the Financial Times awarded us prizes for the Best Free Zone of South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Highly Commended Americas 2017. It paid special attention to our training, skills, education and language programmes, recruitment assistance and sustainability efforts. We are very proud to receive these awards in recognition of the great members of our team – shareholders, directors and employees – who are motivated by the trust that our customers and suppliers have in us. We have worked tirelessly to build and consolidate a worldclass platform for competitive and enduring organisations to be a part of.

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