The former president of the Dominican Republic was a key speaker in a regional development panel at Manhattanville College in neighboring Westchester County, N.Y.
With his presidential term recently finished in August, Leonel Fernández was visiting the area to strengthen regional ties and visit his friend Anthony Davidson, graduate and professional studies dean at Manhattanville College.
Davidson developed a successful business mastery certificate program in the Dominican Republic, which led to his personal and professional relationship with Fernández.
Approximately 13 percent of Westchester and 10 percent of Fairfield counties’ populations are from Latin America, according to recent census data. And a significant portion of the counties’ growing Hispanic population is from the Dominican Republic.
Latin America has been experiencing a decade of continued growth despite the recession in the United States. But with an uncertain global recession on the horizon, Fernández said he’s very concerned the Dominican Republican will be affected this time around.
“We see in this moment, for the short term, a gloomy picture,” Fernández said. “For the first time this recession is really going global.
“We can’t look at the Dominican Republic in isolation or the U.S. economy in isolation,” he continued. “We need to develop a world view.”
The majority of Latin America’s growth has come from China, which is importing raw materials from the region. But in China, Europe and the United States have been slowing their imports and exports to and from the region, Fernández said, due to uncertainties in the global market.
The panelists discussed many ways the local region and the Dominican Republic could work together to strengthen their respective economies.
From the United State’s point of view, it may be cheaper to outsource labor and services to Latin America instead of China with rising fuel prices. The areas could have more collaborative tourism efforts. Additionally, more access to capital for minority-owned businesses could be a way to spur further growth in one of the fastest-growing business sectors, according to panelist Fannie Aleman-Lansch, Westchester Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president. Aleman-Lansch is originally from the Dominican Republic.
From the Dominican Republic’s perspective, educational partnerships are also key. Fernández said he’d like to see continued partnerships with Davidson and Manhattanville to increase the country’s growth and competitiveness. In the past, the country’s exports have been labor intensive and he’d like to see more services exported, which requires more education. The highest ranking colleges in Latin America are in Brazil and Mexico and they only rank near the top 200.
“In comparison, we’re not on the same level,” Fernández said.
Davidson also stressed the importance of education, pointing to recent discussions in the United States about the need for more skilled employees and the inadequacies of the education system.
“(Students) need to be able to find a place where they can receive adequate training,” Davidson said. “It’s not about teaching them to (make) crossroads, but how to cross the road.”