Unlike in most agricultural cities, life in Uberaba is not governed by the seasons. Right at the centre of one of Brazil’s breadbaskets – the Triângulo Mineiro in the south-eastern region of Minas Gerais – the city of 330,000 people is a powerhouse for crops such as sugarcane, soy and corn, and is known as the key region of the zebu, a breed of cattle particularly suited to producing meat and milk in tropical environments, which has attracted global names in the field of animal genetics such as Canada’s Alta Genetics and the US’s ABS.
Yet Uberaba has managed to leverage its agribusiness tradition and strategic location to become a diversified economy with a history of entrepreneurship and innovation. Major domestic and foreign investors including Stanley Black & Decker (industrial tools and household hardware), Valmont (irrigation) and local start-up sensation Electric Ink (tattoo equipment) have made the city the heart of their Brazilian operations. Additionally, Uberaba’s chemical belt has become one of the main centres for the production of fertilisers and crop protection products in the whole of Latin America.
A new start?
Brazil’s economic and political crisis did not spare Uberaba, yet its resilient agribusiness sector kept the economy afloat, and the local government is now willing to look beyond its traditional strengths with a more business-friendly approach. It is hoped that this approach will put the city in a position to make the most of an economic recovery that is expected to gain new momentum at a national level after October elections, when Brazilians will be called to pick a new president and state governors, and renew the Congress.
“We are a business-friendly government. We want to address the need of companies to unleash the potential of private initiatives,” says José Renato Gomes, secretary of economic development and tourism of Uberaba’s municipal government. “For this, we created a law to streamline all the paperwork related to local operations and investment by private companies, thus strengthening the collaboration between the private and public sectors.”
The development of a new export-processing zone is central to the vision of mayor Paulo Piau’s administration. The upgrade of existing transport and logistics infrastructure and a proposed new international airport will give additional reasons for businesses to bring their operations to the city and surrounding areas. The aim is to put the city in a position to fulfil its entrepreneurial and investment potential, which the administration says are both complemented by Uberaba’s relatively high quality of life.
Traffic jams, so typical of other Brazilian cities such as São Paulo, are nowhere to be seen in the city, allowing private and public transport to run smoothly throughout the day. Uberaba has a wide range of primary and secondary schools, as well as hospitals, tourist hotspots such as the memorial to Chico Xavier, the father of Brazilian Spiritism, a palaeontological park and a growing supply of restaurants and malls.
Uberaba may look like just another town in the immense Brazilian agricultural provinces, but it has already shown that it is capable of big things in the agribusiness sector, and more than capable of thinking outside the box to compete in other areas that few urban locations lying within the more remote parts of Brazil attempt to conquer.