Q: What is your vision for the economic development of the city of Uberaba?
A: Uberaba has an established agribusiness sector, but also industries and services. The first pillar in our vision for the future development of the city is logistics. The city has road, train and airport infrastructure, although we don’t have a bigger airport within 500 kilometres. Therefore we are leading the proposal for a new international airport for passengers and freight between Uberaba and Uberlandia. We already have goods bound for the international markets with low volumes but high added value, such as those produced by [tattoo specialist] Electric Ink, or flowers exports. VLI Logistica has already brought major railway logistics to the city, and the airport project will complete our logistics offering.
Q: When do you expect the project to leave the drawing board?
A: The project will depend on the national economy, but the Brazilian economy is stuck at the moment and nobody is going to invest in the current circumstances. It’s not a project for the short term, but it has already drawn much interest from domestic as well as foreign investors. A feasibility study is currently being drafted.
Q: What are the other development pillars?
A: The second one is exports. We want to add value to our productions through an export processing zone [EPZ]. Electric Ink is already thinking of having a facility within the EPZ. It’s the only one in Minas Gerais, and one of the 22 established in Brazil. It’s a new project, and again the timeline for its development will depend on the economic cycle at a national level. We hope to kick-start its development in 2019.
The third pillar concerns technology-driven companies. We have universities in the city that do much R&D, and their activity provides much support to the technological park we have. Uberaba is already the sixth best environment for start-ups in the whole country, and second in Minas Gerais. The technological park is going to [encourage] innovative start-ups and incorporate new companies.
Last but not least is tourism. The city has one of the 10 best water and sanitation infrastructures in the country and boasts a big tourism potential, beginning with a major palaeontological site and museum. Besides, dozens of events unfold around the zebu industry all year long, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Overall, we have three things that other cities don’t. The paleontological site, the zebu industry and the memorial to Chico Xavier, the head of Brazilian Spiritism, who was also voted the greatest Brazilian of all time [on a 2012 TV show], and this all backs our strategy of attracting major investment in the hospitality industry.
Q: The scandals of the past few years have tarnished the image of Brazil and its public governance. What are you doing to re-establish trust in public institutions, at least a local level?
In Uberaba, we launched a ‘zero paper’ project to digitalise processes and documents to diminish the chance that processes get manipulated and corrupted. We got a commendation from the state government of Minas Gerais for transparency. But the real problem in Brazil is governance efficiency. Here we had consultants from the Getulio Vargas Foundation to come up with a series of recommendations over two years to improve governance by focusing on three key issues: planning, project quality control and monitoring.