Manizales is a medium sized city in Colombia’s Caldas department, located four hours south of Medellín. Though it has traditionally been known as a coffee industry epicenter, Manizales punches far above its weight when it comes to outsourcing, which has now become the city’s largest source of private sector employment.
Manizales’ success has not come overnight; the city has been laying the groundwork to create this environment for decades. In the second half of the 20th century, Manizales experienced the establishment of seven major universities, planting the seeds for a professional workforce. In a 2010 study, the World Bank cited Manizales as the best and easiest Colombian city for doing business.
“Digitex saw in Manizales great potential for establishing one of its contact centers due to the significant benefits that the city brought, with highly trained personnel, and government programs that made the process of gearing towards client requirements shorter than normal; and that represented a significant gain for the company, our employees, and our clients globally,” said Salvador Vega, General Manager for Digitex in Colombia. Digitex is a Spanish based BPO firm handling everything from document imaging outsourcing to contact centers for clients in The Americas and Europe.
Continued Vega: “In the department of Caldas, we are the principal employer. We are conscious of the great human talent that exists in the region, and this factor motivates us to continue investing in the country. Due to the excellent customer experience provided by our employees, our workforce has grown in recent years to exceed 6,000 high level employees that bring a great value differential to the enterprise and to the services that we offer.”
The ICT sector within Manizales makes up for 13% of Colombia’s total ICT output, even though the city makes up less than two percent of Colombia’s total population.
Manizales’ high per-capita population of university students (30,000) and graduates, mean that language skills and technology expertise are in comparatively plentiful supply. “Manizales is a knowledge city due to the large quantity of universities that we have, and the talent and knowledge of the people,” said Oscar Cuesta Mesa, in an interview with Manizales’ investment promotion agency, “Invest in Manizales.” Cuesta is a manager of Alsus IT Group, another company that has chosen Manizales as the base from which to service ITO clients.
A 2015 Index of Social Progress study presented by Deloitte rated Manizales as the only city rated as “High” in the social progress category, with a 75.5 ranking on the scale of 1-100; higher than Bogotá, Medellín, and Bucaramanga. “In Colombia there has been a giant revolution in recent years in terms of technology, information, and communications. The recent administrations have been very devoted to supporting and developing this industry. There are large funds earmarked for supporting ICT (Information, Communications, Technology); equally, the city of Manizales and the department of Caldas work hand in hand on initiatives to promote the prosperity of this sector,” says Cuesta.
Like any location, Manizales is not without its challenges. While digitally connected, getting people in and out can sometimes be a challenge. The city’s domestic “La Nubia” airport only has a single 4,600 foot runway, and cannot be expanded due to local topography. The airport only operates from 6am to 6pm, and often has to close due to weather conditions. On days in both May and August of this year, flights had to be canceled due to volcanic ash in the atmosphere from a nearby eruption.
The city is constructing a second airport a half an hour outside of the city with a longer runway that can handle larger airliners, and also operate around the clock. What the city lacks in long distance connectivity though, it makes up for in local transportation infrastructure.
“One important advantage is the mobility. In the intermediate and smaller cities, people don’t need so much time to get from one place to another, and so their transportation budget is also reduced. That’s essential in terms of quality of life. Now, working in the contact center permits the employee work-life balance,” says Vega. “Furthermore, one fundamental factor is that in intermediate cities, there is not as much industry so contact center work is considered a long term profession, allowing us to reduce the employee turnover rate, and guarantee that the people working with us are well trained and obtain a specialty in their position.”
Adds Cuesta: “Manizales presents great infrastructure, it’s competitive. Obviously Manizales has unique characteristics. In addition, as a small city it constitutes a center of an impressive quality of life, making it a great site to develop ICT businesses.”
According to Invest in Manizales, the city has over 80 IT outsourcing firms, and more than half a dozen software animation companies. The ICT sector within Manizales makes up for 13% of Colombia’s total ICT output, even though the city makes up less than two percent of Colombia’s total population.
Invest in Manizales quotes approximately 11,314 employees in the outsourcing sector within the city, attributing the dominance of the sector to low employee turnover, and educated workforce, and comprehensive services provided to support businesses locating there.
Vega agrees. “One important aspect is that cities like Manizales count on important talent sources: educational institutions and universities that constantly provide specialized talent. That helps us to each day offer better services, counting on qualified people to deliver a better customer experience, and also offer our clients competitive services at competitive prices.”
“Without a doubt we can say that one of the most important challenges for the business is to control the employee turnover in order to generate stability; not only for our employees, but also for the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) set by each client. An employee that wants to make a career in the business is an employee that is going to gain more and more expertise in his/her area, and that has positive repercussions for the industry,” continued Vega.
“If you begin to look at all the research groups that exist here, all the research centers that facilitate that, and the entrepreneurial fabric, it’s very difficult to say that Manizales is not a grand focus of innovation,” said Cuesta.