Colombia’s New Hot Market: Barranquilla   2 comments

They call it creating a shared vision. From my experience organizational culture, personal biases, individual and organizational preparation and political motivations affect leadership’s ability to bring about change. The pace at which the world is moving these days has many businesses, organizations and governments dealing with how to manage and lead change. The attention given to strengthening leader’s abilities to motivate followers, guide organizations and systems is well deserved. Yet, in my experience too little is dedicated to connecting the people responsible for implementing changes to the success of making change happen. From Kotter to Drucker to Greenleaf and many more, much of the research on, and theories of, leading change focuses on leaders. I have wondered if the reason change theories and conversations are focused more on leadership is our culture’s inherent belief in, and value for, paternalism. Something the United States has in common with Latin America.

Colombia’s leadership has a vision for a country that will be the gateway to South America in commerce culture. Hundreds of billions of pesos (Colombian currency) and hundreds of millions of dollars (yes the United States is an active participant) are being spent to make this vision a reality. Airport renovations (Bogota); regional airports replacing smaller ones (Manizales/Pereira and Cartagena/Barranquilla/Santa Marta); new hotels (parts of Cartagena is starting to resemble Miami’s South Beach and the region’s most prominent hotel chain, Estellar, has built or will build seven new properties in the country); and scores of new roadways, bridges and homes are all making Colombia an investor’s paradise.

Barranquilla seems to be one of the cities at the forefront of this face lift. This coastal city, lying between Cartagena and Santa Marta, with seeming unlimited property for development, is undergoing one of the most massive make-overs that I have seen. Ocean view lots can be had for $20,000 to $40,000 with all services available. Nice apartments, condos and houses can be purchased for as little as $40,000, depending on where a person wants to live and the amount of space they require. Certainly, if a person wants to pay $200,000 or more for a top floor ocean or river view apartment/condo they can. And $250,000 or more can get a person a 3000 square foot house, with a pool.

Just in the northern part of the city more than thirty construction projects are happening. Large apartment buildings; housing tracks; new office buildings and a new hotel; and smaller apartment projects all can be counted within a three kilometer area. The growth, and amount of money being spent, is astounding to me. One can only imagine the services that will be/are needed. There are too few public laundries. Restaurants (folks here love to eat out) arealways in demand. As the population becomes more international (and it will) there will be more of a need for different types of cuisine. Clothes, electronics and other goods can be expensive here (especially if you buy them in the malls). But with the October (2011) signing of the U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement the doors will open wide for cheaper US goods and products to appear on the shelves of Colombian stores. With thousands of new housing opportunities coming available one can only imagine the opportunities.

Now, here is the rub. At least to me! With all of the private investment the public dollars seem to follow slowly. And what seems to follow even more slowly are the cultural habits. I was thinking about buying property in Barranquilla. In my conversation with an attorney her rate quote surprised me. I needed someone to do a property valuation, contract review and be present at contract signing. I was told the fee for these services would be 2,500,000 pesos (about $1300). I laughed, and said I do not want to pay gringo prices, meaning they jack up the cost of things because they think you got money. So the fee was reduced to 2,000,000 pesos (a little over $1000). I later got quotes of 1,000,000 pesos (a little over $500) for the same work. The local drug store quoted me a price 50% higher than what I knew the prescription cost. After telling the guy what my doctor told me the price was, he lowered it. In the United States, we are used to prices for most services and goods being fairly the same. You may pay for a firm’s prestige but the work being done will also likely be different. We are used to being lured into buying things by promises of getting the lowest price available. Here, one has to get used to being charged for services according to what people think they can get. You negotiate taxi fares here before they take you someplace. To ask the price afterwards can lead to getting raked over the coals.

In this growing modern metropolitan area, take a walk down sidewalks and you will find uncovered holes. Some with four to six feet drops to what look like sewers or utilities. Homeowners are responsible for their property to the street. They can do what they want. Meaning sidewalks are uneven. Most Barranquilla streets have no way for managing the sometimes heavy rains. Arroyos, as they are called, means the water runs in the streets like a West Virginia river rapid; stopping traffic, causing accidents and making getting around horrible. Beautifully developed parks can be ill kept. And despite a city ordinance against them, horse carts on busy streets are a common sight.

But what is perhaps most to the contrary of the vision for Barranquilla are the habits of some of the people. Leaving the new PriceSmart, on a gorgeously designed newly constructed tree-lined thoroughfare, I walked past a family who had no concern for anything other than throwing their food containers out of their fashionable SUV to the ground. The next day, walking to the mall, I was surprised to see a young guy peeing against a wire fence on a busy street at about 5:30 p.m. It is no stretch to say that there are bad habits here. In fact, there can be little connection between the beauty of this coastal city and people’s sense of their responsibility to care for it. It is also a city where people remain concerned about their personal safety. While shooting some of the photos for this post I was warned by some youths that I was being watched by a couple of guys on motor cycles with intentions to rob me. Fearing being followed, their insistence caused me to take a taxi home. This was at 5:00 p.m. next to a very busy mall.

There is little that will stop Barranquilla from continuing to become a thriving international city in a gorgeous part of a gorgeous country. To live in Barranquilla now means coping with the growing pains of a culture whose habits are slow to change. The person who moves here now will simply have to suffer through a work in progress. Having the heart to do that will require faith, follow-ship and the ability to take a journey that neither the literature nor the systems available are prepared to help one figure out easily. My belief though is that the person who moves to Barranquilla now will be riding a wave of development that will ultimately yield lifestyle and financial rewards.

Posted December 21, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

2 responses to “Colombia’s New Hot Market: Barranquilla

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Ahhh life in a developing country. I’m happy to find your work. Though I have a co-worker whose wife is from Barranquilla, I never really gave it much consideration until reading some of your accounts. All of the scenarios you have depicted are commonplace, maybe moreso in Jamaica. PriceSmart, littering, inadequate drainage, etc. I can’t wait to be able to make the move within the next 6 months!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: