I met one of my best friends Casey Ehrlich while we were undergraduate film students at the University of Michigan. Ironically, we both pursued careers outside of the film industry and were drawn into social and economic development in South America (perhaps it was the Latin American film electives we took!). Casey currently works for the Economic Transformations Group, and has been spearheading a project in the city of Loja in Ecuador. I wanted to interview Casey to give our readers a broader perspective on the economic climate and industries found in other parts of Ecuador.
Bria: What is the city of Loja known for throughout Ecuador?
Casey: Loja is a picturesque colonial town that is known for the warmth of its people, as well as their entrepreneurship and independence. It is a small city of about 200,000 inhabitants, and has been both historically and geographically isolated from the rest of Ecuador. It is located at the southern tip of the Andes and is a 12-hour bus ride from Quito and Guayaquil, the two largest cities in Ecuador. Loja also borders Peru to the south and historically has served as a buffer between Ecuador and Peru during periods of border disputes.
Bria: What are the main industries that are being developed in Loja?
Casey: I am currently working on a $40 million project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, focusing on regional competitiveness and cluster development. We’re focusing on industries or businesses that produce one type of product or service--like the auto industry in Detroit, for example. In Loja we’re working to promote endogenous development (development coming from within a population) to facilitate the growth of four local clusters: Coffee, Tourism, Software and Creative Industries, and Eco-system Services and Biodiversity.
Bria: You met the President of Ecuador, Rafel Correa while you were in Loja. Why was he there?
Casey: Rafael Correa, harbors a particular interest in Loja’s economic development and it has been the most-visited province by the president during his three-year tenure in office. Previously, Loja has been an underserved part of the country in terms of development funds and Correa wants to bridge the economic and developmental gap with the rest of Ecuador.
Bria: What are some of the overall challenges Ecuador faces as its industries continue to grow?
Casey: Ecuador is an ecological wonderland, with abundant natural resources like oil and more biodiversity than Costa Rica. But these resources come with a challenge: How do you protect the country's environment and maintain its indigenous culture while promoting the economic growth needed to reduce poverty levels and compete with more developed nations? That balance will be key to the sustainable future we're all working toward in Ecuador.
Casey Ehrlich received a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a MIA from Columbia University. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.