Major infrastructure project empowers women-owned small businesses in Ecuador
By Merryl Burpoe
Acting Vice President, OPIC Office of Investment Policy
When OPIC committed $200 million in financing to support construction of a modern airport in Ecuador’s capitol, it launched a major infrastructure project that would replace one of the world’s most dangerous airports with what today is one of the busiest in South America. The Quiport-managed Mariscal Sucre International Airport (Quiport) outside of Quito has won multiple industry awards and offers the longest runway in South America. The increased capacity and greater reliability has enabled Ecuador to benefit from greater connectivity to the world, an expanded tourism market and increased global trade. The airport has also dramatically impacted the surrounding communities by providing new employment and business opportunities.
OPIC anticipated that new airlines, cargo companies, hotels, restaurants and other local and international businesses would benefit from this major infrastructure project. One of the benefits that OPIC did not anticipate was the incredible impact this major airport in the high Andes would have on so many small, women-owned businesses in the surrounding farmland.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel with a team from OPIC to study the impact the project has had both in Ecuador and on U.S. businesses. In addition to conferring with major local and U.S. companies now doing business in and around the airport, we also met a number of women entrepreneurs who have been able to significantly grow their businesses thanks to Quiport’s commitment to supporting small local businesses. Along with offering labor databases to identify potential employees, technical training, scholarships for local students and environmental initiatives that encourage international standards, Quiport also has a robust business development program that promotes sustainable practices and trains local businesses in management, marketing and other necessary skills. Quiport has made it a priority to work with small businesses to help take them to the next level of growth.
Several of the women-owned businesses that have benefited from the Quiport airport are featured in this video.
In the shadows of one of the world’s most modern airports, Alicia Gomez (pictured above), once a subsistence farmer, now regularly fills orders for hundreds of airport employees each week. Her growing business uses industrial kitchen equipment, applies safety and sanitation standards and packages products to cater to the unique needs of individual clients. Recognizing her potential from the start, Quiport sought to support her through its Nuestra Huerta, or Our Orchard, program. Nuestra Huerta is a Shared Value initiative developed by Quiport Corporation with support from the Inter-American Investment Corporation, member of the Inter-American Development Bank Group, and executed jointly with agricultural producers from the seven neighboring parishes in the airport's zone of influence. This program helps local entrepreneurs to acquire the resources and skills needed to serve new markets with products including fresh strawberries and avocados, customized fruit cups packaged with a client’s particular tastes in mind, homemade Ecuadoran tortillas, and some of the most delicious croissants this side of Paris. These businesses are growing, hiring employees and selling not just to the airport employees, but often to nearby businesses as well. Several are expecting to open stores in the airport soon and at least one hopes to sell to a regional grocery chain.
Lorena Tandayamo, once raised a few chickens to sell eggs to her neighbors. Now she is a supplier to the airport and other nearby businesses, selling farm fresh eggs and her own traditional and modern versions of tortillas de tiesto to scores of customers. Rebeca Baquero, sells large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables from her large farm to the airport employees and has hired eight employees to assist her. Her near- term goal is to open a store in the airport and eventually she hopes to sell to a local grocery chain and build a business that she can pass on to her young daughter.
Without the right support, the path from producing small amounts of food to operating a professional food business can be marked with insurmountable hurdles. The airport’s Nuestra Huerta program not only provides these entrepreneurs with the opportunity to access larger markets, it also provides training in the advanced agricultural practices, industrial safety and sanitation, accounting, business management, and marketing skills that are needed for businesses to expand and thrive.
For OPIC, the Quiport project addresses our long-term mission of supporting major infrastructure projects that require large investments of time and money that is so often not available from the private sector. OPIC’s new Development Outcomes initiative, looks at the broader impacts of our projects, and gave us a unique opportunity to examine the far-reaching impact that this airport has had on employees, local communities, multiple businesses and Ecuador as a whole. This same project is a stellar example of OPIC’s ability to support projects that also promote small business growth in developing markets, further enhancing job creation and economic impact.