The Chamber News & Views talks to Marcelino Quant, entrepreneur and president of the San Nicolas Business Association. In this first part of the interview he shares his views on doing business in San Nicolas and how to start diversifying Aruba’s economy.
1. Can you give us a brief introduction?
I am a business owner from San Nicolas. I started my professional career as an accountant at one of the Big 4 firms and in due time I became a managing partner. After a management buy-out, I left the company and since San Nicolas Business Association (SNBA) had approached me various times to join them, I thought now is the time. On June 4, 2012, I was voted president. My involvement with Aruba’s Social Dialogue started immediately, which then was about a new fiscal regime for Aruba. I am also the president of the Carubbian Festival Foundation. This is a running train, and I am not much in the public light, contrary to my role as president of SNBA. I consider myself lucky to be the president of both organizations.
2. Tell us a little about your businesses and your startup.
My wife and I opened a children clothing store called Patrice in San Nicolas a few years back. We got motivated to continue investing in San Nicolas, and we established a second company with another business partner. We develop real estate projects in San Nicolas, and have various projects in the pipeline. Simultaneously I started my career shift, which went from being an accountant to an entrepreneur. I also started offering my accounting services pro-deo to various organizations in San Nicolas and that is how I came in contact with the Carubbian Festival Foundation and the SNBA.
3. Why did you choose to do business in San Nicolas?
Because I am originally from San Nicolas and I love it, perhaps too much!
4. How has the closing of the refinery affected your businesses?
We experienced a reduction in revenue of 30-50%, while my businesses are not even related to the refinery. We had to reduce costs, do better inventory control and increase marketing efforts. Marketing is an expensive tool that requires some expertise. Small businesses often don’t have a marketing specialist or even a marketing budget, but it is an important tool to attract more clients.
I know it remains a challenge, but I recommend entrepreneurs to invest during economic hardship; because you will come out of the recession stronger. I have to add that Carubbian Festival helped as it adds one day of sales. But it is only a relief to those businesses located on the festival strip. One day I hope the entire main street will host the Carubbian Festival and that the Cultural Heritage stream will pay off.
5. What is your goal as the president of SNBA?
At SNBA we are striving to introduce a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in San Nicolas. This way we can attract investors to invest in San Nicolas. We hope the result will be a new influx of consumers, either locals or tourists, in San Nicolas.
A SEZ can stimulate new and different businesses in San Nicolas. New businesses bring along new employees. If the government can see to it that these employees can have a pleasant place to work, to take their children to school and to have a good leisure time, then they will choose to live there. And in time, this will bring more businesses to San Nicolas. For this change to happen, there are five factors to take into consideration.
The first factor we already mentioned, businesses must re-establish in San Nicolas.
Second is to provide a pleasant living environment. There is already a lot being renovated. These results will not be seen immediately but rather on the long term. Third factor is to re-educate the people who are living in San Nicolas to consume in San Nicolas.
Fourth factor, to achieve number three, San Nicolas needs to offer the consumer a wider variety of products, or else the consumer will go there where more options are available.
The fifth factor is lack of time. We need to start now. Because as the economic development in San Nicolas is declining, the Aruban economy is growing. This is not to our advantage. For the SEZ to succeed all these factors need to go hand-in-hand.
This is why we applaud the Aruba Chamber’s initiative to organize the event “Aruba without the refinery”, and to bring people together to get more ideas of how to continue and to boost San Nicolas’ economy again. It is not just about San Nicolas but it concerns Aruba as an island. If we do not do anything now, in time the consequences will affect the whole island. I dread the day that the situation would become so bad that we have to warn tourists not to go to a certain part of the island because it is not safe. Safety is one of the biggest advantages Aruba has and as a nation we have to do everything to preserve it.
6. What is your view on the government’s Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) project the “Green Corridor”? (Green Corridor is a new highway planned to be built between the towns of San Nicolas and Oranjestad, red.)
On the short term I see the Green Corridor more as a threat than as an opportunity by making it easier for people living in San Nicolas to get to Oranjestad. On the long term it can provide San Nicolas with opportunities but only if we create them.
By embracing its typical Caribbean cultural identity, San Nicolas can attract more visitors by offering cultural packages of a unique experience you will not find anywhere else on the island. We can start building from there. But here again, time is not on our side.
7. What are the major changes you would like to see for San Nicolas?
There is so much I want to accomplish but if I have to narrow it down, I would want to begin with raising awareness among the people of San Nicolas that it is a good thing to shop in San Nicolas. I want to accomplish “feel good, live well and spend well in San Nicolas”.
Second thing is to make San Nicolas livelier, not just during business hours but also in the evenings and during the weekends. San Nicolas really is a melting pot that has a lot to offer. It is rich in experience, in history and it is a nice place to live.
8. Do you believe there are still opportunities in San Nicolas after the closure of the refinery?
Yes, introduce other forms of heavy industries. The premises of the refinery are very large. It has assets and liabilities, with which we have to be careful. I am not a geologist and have not conducted any studies on this topic but I believe that there is severe contamination in specific areas. I really hope the contamination is limited to secluded areas, for example the tank farm areas, and that other areas will be clean. If this is the case, then the assets could be exploited more easily. But I know this is from an optimistic point of view.