Under an agreement negotiated with the Panamanian government, the Supply Chain & Logistics Institute (SCL), a unit of Georgia Tech's Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will establish and operate a Logistics Innovation and Research Center (PLIC) in Panama by the fall of this year. The center's activities will be built around three main areas: applied research, education and competitiveness.
The center will gather data pertaining to logistics and trade, and develop analytics to facilitate showing the value and capabilities of Panama. This knowledge base will also drive educational programming in logistics for students and professionals. In addition, the center will facilitate stronger industry and infrastructure linkages, which it is hoped could lead to new logistics services and jobs.
With its strategic location, multi-modal transportation access and deep-water ports situated on each coast, "Panama is a natural place for a trade hub," says Don Ratliff, SCL executive director. "It is well suited for free enterprise growth with convenient air and sea transportation to the rest of Latin America, has an outstanding financial district, and good commercial development infrastructure.”
The Panama Canal is presently undergoing a multi-billion-dollar expansion. When completed in 2014 the waterway's capacity will be doubled and allow much bigger cargo ships.
"There's a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in Panama," says Jaymie Forrest, SCL's managing director. "Panama is poised for economic growth in the area of logistics and supporting services. A bilingual workforce is another plus, she adds, along with Panama's Colón Free Zone, a manufacturing, warehousing and re-export center that is the second-largest free-trade zone in the world after Hong Kong.
But for all of Panama's hard assets, it lacks the high level of integration necessary for trade-hub status. There is lack of logistics services and supporting infrastructure such as public warehousing, temperature controlled faculties, logistics technology and the human capital experienced in supply chain operations.
A value assessment to determine priorities in terms of infrastructure improvement will be one of the PLIC's top orders of business. Ongoing improvements in logistics and the application of relevant new technologies will help ensure Panama's competitiveness and build its stature as a trade hub.