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Industrial park project will create 20,000 new jobs in Haiti

Steve Kastenbaum, CNN Radio
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Haiti one year later
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The project began even before the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti
  • Clinton says it will inspire more investment in Haiti
  • The plans include a textile mill and 5,000 homes
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Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Haiti's economy is getting a boost thanks to a venture with one of Korea's largest companies that promises to bring 20,000 garment industry jobs to a new industrial park in the north of the country.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive were joined by members of the Interim Haitian Recovery Commission, the Inter-American Development Bank, Haitian business leaders and the chairman of Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. at the Haiti Apparel Center in Port-au-Prince as they signed an agreement to build the North Industrial Park. It's part of an effort to rebuild the Haitian economy that began even before the earthquake struck one year ago.

"This will inspire people all over Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia who have thought seriously about investing in Haiti and not come through," said Clinton. "What we need is a commitment to be competitive in getting investment and putting people to work, and then we need to build the institutions that will allow the people to flower. That is our commitment."

Smiling, Bellerive said that looking back over the past year, "This is the best day of my life today."

The project is expected to generate $500 million in wages and benefits over 10 years and result in Haiti's first textile mill, according to its backers. Investment in the industrial park will also include the construction of at least 5,000 homes. The United States will oversee the construction of a power grid that will provide electricity to the park and the surrounding area.

The garment industry had been the prime source of Haitian exports before the earthquake and it remains so today. About 28,000 people currently work in Haiti's garment sector, manufacturing products for Gap, JCPenney, Wal-Mart, New Balance and other well-known brands.

Georges Sassine owns a garment plant in Port-au-Prince that employs 530 people. He believes the garment industry holds the key to growing Haiti's economy and making the country self-sufficient.

"Today, this industry represents over 50% of our earned foreign currency earnings. It also represents over 50% of the total commercial exports of Haiti," he said.

Sassine didn't have a problem retaining buyers after the earthquake. "We shipped our first container 10 days after the quake. We were ready to do business."

At the time, he had to ship his goods over land to the Dominican Republic before delivering them to buyers. Today, he is able to ship goods from a reopened port in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

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