A trip to paradise?

When I think of "paradise," among other places, Costa Rica comes up in the conversation. Many large US companies have facilities around San Jose and, in fact, our company has a number of laser systems in some of these facilities. Even though we have been doing business there for a number of years, I had never been there. I personally did not visit for two primary reasons. First, buying decisions were usually made in the US, and second, my engineers love to go there, so it is a bit of a reward to send one down for an installation, training, or service visit. Recently, buying decisions are being made on-site, so it was time to go and meet the right people on-site.

What I found is, of course, great weather and great food! It is my first experience in spending any time near the equator and I had never before thought about how that affects the day/night ratio. Because of the closeness to the equator and the larger earth diameter, there is very little change in the seasons (except from rainy to sunny) or at least in the length of the days, which are quite short. By 6 pm, year-round (they do not have Daylight Savings Time) it is getting dark outside. When it rains, it also rains REAL hard.

I also found a very capable, educated, and willing workforce eager for more knowledge in general and on lasers in particular. The literacy rate is the highest in Latin America at over 96%. I had a room full of engineers listening to a 4-hour version of my Laser MicroManufacturing course, which required some concentration on the part of my audience, as I speak no Spanish at all. It was a strange feeling to be so out of place, as I can get by pretty well in German and I also have at least a working knowledge of French and even Japanese. But the Spanish language baffled me—and one of my 'mid-year' resolutions is to learn at least a bit of conversational Spanish.

Unfortunately, there may be a bit of a fly in the ointment. In order to promote investment, the government has offered tax incentives and a number of larger corporations had taken advantage of this and the highly trained work force, perhaps the most visible among them being Intel, who in 2006 was responsible for 20% of the total Costa Rican exports and almost 5% of its GDP. Unfortunately, about 5 years ago a much more Socialist government came into power and, in the usual Socialist fashion, began a 'bottom-up' leveling effort on the economy, which is great news for a large number of people on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, but it has nearly strangled entrepreneurism. During the last few years, a number of especially small entrepreneurs have pulled out and even Intel is gone! It remains to be seen how this will shake out in the future.

So, for now, take your tourist dollars and visit a great country. You can even retire there and pay for everything in US dollars. Just don't try to start a business.

I am on the road next week again—one of my stops being CLEO, held in San Jose, CA. Look for more travel reports over the next couple of months.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at rschaeffer@photomachining.com.



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