PANAMA CITY, Panama – A new Georgia Institute of Technology logistics and research center in Panama will help the country reach its full potential as a crossroads for global trade, Panama's president, Ricardo Martinelli, said at the center's launch ceremony Sept. 7.
Panama largely depends on the logistics for economic growth, as evidenced by the heavy-laden container ships traversing its canal, but the country sits at No. 51 in a World Bank survey ranking countries' logistics performance.
“We want to use this opportunity to take full advantage of our geographical position and aim for the No. 1 position,” Mr. Martinelli said to the audience in a packed ballroom at the Marriott Panama City Hotel.
Panama's National Secretariat for Science, Technology, and Innovation, or SENACYT, and Georgia Tech’s Supply Chain & Logistics Institute have collaborated to fund and organize the center, which will serve as both an educational institute and a research hub.
But the center's impact will extend well beyond academia, Mr. Martinelli said in prepared remarks.
“It is a way to transform our way of doing things and give a better standard of living to all Panamanians,” he said.
In a post-ceremony press conference, the president elaborated on the center's importance to the country. “This has to do with the essence of Panama. Everything is intertwined in this event. It has to do with everything that is Panama,” he said. Panama is spending more than $5 billion on a canal expansion that will double its capacity by 2014.
Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson also voiced confidence in the partnership's potential. Dr. Peterson identified Panama as an established player in trade and transport and supported Martinelli’s prediction that with the help of the new center, Panama will emerge as the premier business hub in Latin America.
Georgia Tech, whose Supply Chain and Logistics Institute had been ranked as the top logistics school for more than two decades, is no stranger to international education. The university has established campuses and institutes in France, Ireland, China, Singapore and most recently in Costa Rica.
“Georgia Tech has a long history of positive international relations, and we are excited to expand into Panama,” said Don Ratliff, executive director of the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute.
Dr. Ratliff emphasized the center's role in boosting exports from small and medium-sized American businesses, which have trouble selling to smaller countries like those of Central America.
John Andersen, director of Latin American affairs for the U.S. Commerce Department, echoed Mr. Ratliff, noting that small businesses' efforts to reach the region will play a crucial role in President Obama’s lofty goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years.
Ruben Berrocal, director of SENACYT, said the program will also benefit students in both Panama and the U.S., citing the programs in place for Georgia Tech students to study in Panama as well as a new initiative to send Panamanian students to Atlanta. A dual masters degree will also be available through collaboration between Georgia Tech and a Panamanian university, he said.
Panama’s vice president, Juan Carlos Varela, a Georgia Tech alumnus, opened the ceremony by recounting memories from his time spent as an undergraduate in Atlanta and his vision for his alma mater's role in Panama's development.
The Georgia Tech Logistics Innovation & Research Center is a significant international venture, but its influence on Georgia Tech's home city should not be overlooked, said Jaymie Forrest, the managing director of the Supply Chain & Logistics Institute. The institute is organizing seminars in Atlanta to help interested parties get involved with the center.
The location of the Panama center still hasn't been finalized. Tech is considering two separate developments, both housed in converted U.S. military bases.
The City of Knowledge, a technology park on the western outskirts of Panama City near the Panama Canal, is the traditional home for foreign nonprofits, research groups and university outposts.
While the City of Knowledge has a higher concentration of researchers, Panama Pacifica, an industrial park located on the former Howard Air Force Base, will likely attract more companies as the development works to fashion itself as a logistics hub, Dr. Ratliff said.
The center will be administered in Panama by Managing Director Dario Solis, former director of research and professor of mechanical and electrical engineering at the Technological University of Panama.