Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Lab and Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs work
with Colombian officials in design and implementation of productivity and competitiveness initiative.
The project started in January 2017 through a collaboration with the Private Council of Competitiveness (CPC). At the end of the second year, Confecámaras, the national Association of Chambers of Commerce, became the client together with Colombia Productiva, a program of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT) under which Fábricas de Productividad was created. The current client is Confecámaras, a national entity that supports the Colombian Chambers of Commerce to promote competitiveness and regional development.
Colombia’s economy is the fourth largest in Latin America as measured by the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $327 billion (nominal, 2019). The country has experienced consistent economic growth over the last decade and policy makers have prioritized programs and initiatives to improve the quality of life and social well-being of citizens. To continue sustaining economic growth, National Development Plans, federal public policies, and several think-tank studies, have identified the increase of productivity as one the pillars for economic growth. Colombia needs to strengthen its innovation and productivity strategy to create the conditions necessary for companies to adapt technological advances, and for the sophistication and diversification of sectors and products. Technology Extension represents a foundational base in a country’s strategy to build an effective innovation, sophistication, and productivity system. As an instrument that seeks to close the information gap, build internal capacity, and connect to existing knowledge supply, Technology Extension equips companies with productivity tools that are essential for incremental innovation. At the same, the national government should complement existing knowledge supply with instruments, capacity building, infrastructure, and business reforms to promote competitiveness.
Colombia has launched prior Technology Extension pilots and initiatives between 2012 and 2016. The program Fábricas de Productividad was designed in 2018 by the MinCIT, Colombia Productiva, National Planning Department (DNP), Chambers of Commerce, and the CPC as a program that consolidated the different extension initiatives until that date. Fábricas seeks to scale the lessons learned from previous programs and implement a permanent model of extension services that is jointly operated with local Chambers of Commerce. The design followed a rigorous process of reviewing best practices at the national and international level, through close collaboration with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership(GaMEP) and the Economic Development Lab (EDL), two programs of the Enterprise Innovation Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Created in 1960, the GaMEP is dedicated to delivering comprehensive technical, management and research assistant to fuel growth and advance manufacturing in the state. EDL works with communities, governments, and universities, in Georgia and beyond, to strengthen their innovation economies.
The initial scope of the collaboration with CPC was to conduct an assessment in four Colombian cities of the current programs and services available to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The assessment included a Survey of the Manufacturing Services Industry in the four cities, which was modeled on the GaMEP’s bi-annual survey. Following the completion of the initial assessment, the collaboration was expanded to include the following additional elements:
- Public Policy and Strategic Advice for the design of the first national program of Technology Extension Services (TES), which was going to be modeled mainly after the GaMEP but also taking into consideration other international programs.
- Capacity Building and Knowledge Transfer to build a critical mass of Colombian Extensionists to deliver TES to companies, not only in the capital area, but at a regional level.
The expanded collaboration included a TES pilot program in four cities. EDL and GaMEP experts traveled to Colombia for consulting and advisory meetings, and to provide on-the-job mentoring by shadowing the local extensionists in training and providing feedback to improve their skills. Additionally, EDL designed a series of boot camp training programs at Georgia Tech for a group of 45 Colombian delegates, including private and public sector officials and extensionists, with the goal to build capacity and transfer best practices about TES, public policy, and strategic aspects to create a national Technology Extension program.
Through this collaboration, the EDL and GaMEP teams contributed to the design and implementation of Fábricas de Productividad, which has become the flagship public-private initiative in Colombia to promote the productivity and competitiveness of SMEs. In total, 110 Colombian Extensionists have completed a boot camp program at Georgia Tech and received a certificate from Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE). 40 SME firms in Colombia were assisted by Georgia Tech- trained extension professionals and shadowed by GaMEP staff during the pilot program.
Fábricas de Productividad has had a tremendous impact in Colombia. Between Fall 2018 and Fall 2020 (cycle one), the program’s impact was 10 times the impact of its predecessor programs by serving 1,305 companies, compared to 129 Companies served by the previous program. These companies reported productivity increases of 32.8 percent across various the metrics. The initiative has received $10 million public-private investment; 27 of Colombia’s 31 departments (the equivalent of a state in the U.S. commonwealth or state) participating, and 48 of the 57 Chambers of Commerce are implementing the program. Furthermore, Fábricas has built the first national database of TES professionals with a total of 366 Extensionists registered to date. A recent study conducted by Fedesarrollo (a non-profit center of economic and social research) on the effectiveness of the Fábricas de Productividad extensionists network, demonstrated outstanding results evidenced by a perception of high effectiveness and coherence with public policy. Compared with international references, Fábricas de Productividad has managed to consolidate a solid base in a few years of operation, with a wide network of experts, and a broad capacity to reach companies as in similar cases around the world.