Home Chamber of Commerce MEET THE CHAMBER: MR. MARCO CHEIS Representative of SME’s in the Board...

MEET THE CHAMBER: MR. MARCO CHEIS Representative of SME’s in the Board of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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The Curaçao Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the voice of private enterprise in Curaçao. It represents the general interests of the Curaçao business community, registers businesses, and provides information and services to local and international companies with an interest in doing business in and with (other businesses in) Curaçao.

TEXT DENISE VIJBER

The Chamber has various executive divisions and a board of directors. The board consists of nine members who are elected by the voting members of the business community, five of which represent the corporate sector (companies with an invested capital of at least 100,000 Antillean Guilders) and four who represent the small business sector (companies with an invested capital of less than 100,000 Antillean Guilders). Board members serve a term of three years and can be re-elected; furthermore they represent the different sectors of the business community. Curaçao Business Magazine had the opportunity to interview Mr. Marco Cheis, a young entrepreneur who was elected in January 2015 to represent the small business sector.

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

MC: I am 27 years old, and have a passion for innovation and economic development. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in International Business and Language studies from Boston University, and felt that I needed to return home, to Curaçao. At the beginning of my career, I worked as a Business Information Officer at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but recently joined my family business, where I manage and assist with an array of retail and real estate projects.

What is your role in the Board?

MC: As a board member, I represent the voice of small and medium sized enterprises in Curaçao, particularly those based in the city center. In doing so, I voice our common concerns and interests, and play an active role in the decision- making process of the board. Also, I represent the Chamber at various public events.

What do you think the public should know about the role of the Curaçao Chamber of Commerce and Industry in our community?

MC: The Chamber sponsors training for the private sector. We hold a lot of workshops for people who want to start a business, people who want expand their business, or people who have limited knowledge and want to gain more knowledge on certain topics relevant to the private sector. Every month there is training on how to set up your own business. We also hold information sessions, for example on new laws. Usually, there is a small fee attached to the workshops, but some are free. For more information or to apply, interested parties can contact the Chamber or follow us on Facebook.

Why did you decide to run for a position on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry?

MC: When I moved back to Curaçao four years ago, I realized that this is my home and I could have added value. Also, I want to be part of a Curaçao that is very productive and where businesses flourish.

For a little over two years, I worked at the Curaçao Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In this role, I was tasked with facilitating business investors investing in Curaçao, and attracting potential international investors. There was a lot of interest from international investors, but when they saw all the costs associated with doing business here, many decided to move their business elsewhere.

That is when I realized that even though the Chamber has great intentions and is able to realize many things, there are circumstances outside the Chamber’s control that have to change. This became even clearer when I started to work in the private sector. It is for this reason that I decided to run for the Board: “I want to actively play a part in decreasing the cost of doing business in Curaçao to make it more attractive for businesses to set up shop in Curaçao.”

Another reason I ran for the Board, is because I think it is important to make our community and especially the young generation, our future, more entrepreneurial. We need to make it possible for young people to start businesses. We have enough entrepreneurial people, but a lot of them go to the Netherlands because they see more opportunities there, so we need to make it attractive enough not to go abroad but say, “Hey, Curaçao is the place I want to invest.” There are so many things that can be done, for example, temporarily exempting young entrepreneurs from paying sales tax or offering reduced interest rates or rates for property rental. The public and private sectors have to work together to make it easier for young, ambitious entrepreneurs.

Why is it rewarding to be on the Board of the Chamber?

MC: Representing SME’s on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry does not directly benefit me right now. For me board membership shouldn’t and cannot be for one’s personal benefit; it’s about working together to realize positive change. I like to think that collaboration is important, and as a member of the board, I am able to work with fellow representatives from the private sector, and our counterparts in the government, to ensure economic growth and progress.

Why is it rewarding to be on the Board of the Chamber?

MC: Representing SME’s on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry does not directly benefit me right now. For me board membership shouldn’t and cannot be for one’s personal benefit; it’s about working together to realize positive change. I like to think that collaboration is important, and as a member of the board, I am able to work with fellow representatives from the private sector, and our counterparts in the government, to ensure economic growth and progress.

Do you think young people in Curaçao are interested in starting up their own businesses?

MC: Definitely! Take ‘Start-Up Curaçao,’ for example. There was an article about the company in the previous edition: a young organization that offers co-working spaces and a platform for entrepreneurs to engage with one another. It is a very organic and a grassroots type of movement, where the young people are in charge and are empowered. In order to ensure young people’s investment into the economy, we need to ensure continuity, regardless of politics: we need to all want to go in the same direction, whether we travel in a Volkswagen or Toyota is a different matter entirely.

Why are you so passionate about improving business opportunities for small businesses in Curaçao?

MC: As an entrepreneur, I’ve always strived for growth, and I can’t help but recognize the missed opportunities. The costs of doing business in Curaçao can be detrimental in determining the success of local SME’s. I recognize that SME’s drive the economy, and create a middle class. Consequently, the middle class forms the largest proportion of your consumer population, so it is important that SME’s continue to feel empowered. “We need to create the right circumstances to promote the growth of SME’s and the middle class, which is not an easy feat.” Building confidence in our economy plays a large role in this, and the Chamber is proposing changes to boost the export of goods and services.

A great opportunity is the Curaçao Space Expedition, for example. Currently commercialized space travel is not possible anywhere in the world. Seeing as developments in this sector are rapid, if the private and public sectors work together, we can realize the space port here and will be in a very unique position. Commercial space travel will attract high net worth individuals and this can be the catalyst for more investments.

In your view, what is the role of the Curaçao Chamber of Commerce and Industry in improving Curaçao’s business climate?

MC: In my view, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the embodiment of the highest level of public private partnerships (PPP) in Curaçao. Through working with our government counterparts, we were able to realize the creation of an Investor’s permit in Curaçao, which is another step in promoting foreign direct investment on the island.

In my opinion, we need to work towards creating a platform where the public and private sectors can come together regularly. Although we already have a form of this through the National Dialogue for an Advanced Curaçao where high-level government, private sector and union representatives come together, we need to work towards creating structural discussions between all stakeholders and strengthening PPP, especially because our community is small.

In five to ten years, where do you hope Curaçao will be?

MC: I think that we need to work together to develop a plan with a common vision; based on that plan we can realistically project where we want to be. I hope that a plan like this can be developed with insight from the government, private sector, and NGOs. It requires great commitment on the part of all those involved; and it should mean that there is a clear direction despite politics. Confidence from the private sector will also be important, and as a result we’ll have people investing left, right and center. Continuity and alignment are key, so it’s not really a question of where I see Curaçao five to ten years from now, but more a question of creating the circumstances to move forward together, now.

What would your advice be to young entrepreneurs in Curaçao?

MC: Young entrepreneurs, everyone will tell you cannot; you cannot start a business, you cannot do this, you cannot do that. You will hear so much negativity, but that really should not discourage you. If anything, it should become your motivation to succeed. Do not give up because we are the future.

We have a least another 60, 70 years -if we are healthy- to go. So if the economy is not doing well, if you’ve lost your job, or if you haven’t found a job yet, you have 60 years to go. That is a lot of time. We, young people, are rich in time. So just focus on the positive. Don’t give up! If you keep going you will get there. You cannot give up.