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Publication date: 19 October 2015

Niels Ketelhöhn, Roberto Artavia, Ronald Arce and Victor Umaña

This paper is a historical account of the process by which Michael Porter and INCAE Business School put together a regional competitiveness strategy for Central America…



This paper is a historical account of the process by which Michael Porter and INCAE Business School put together a regional competitiveness strategy for Central America that was officially adopted by the governments of five participating countries, and implemented through a series of Presidential Summits that occurred between 1995 and 1999. The paper provides a unique case study on the adoption of the concepts put forth by Porter in his book “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” (1990) at the highest level of government. The study arrives at a series of practical implications for policy makers that are particularly relevant for the implementation of supra-national regional strategies.


The authors conduct an extensive literature review of 190 policy papers produced by INCAE Business School, that are used to recreate the historical evolution of the regional competitiveness strategy. The effect of Porter’s intervention is also assessed by comparing the main economic indicators of each participating country with those of 2005-2010. One of the authors was the main protagonist in the successful implementation of the strategy, and the paper relies partially on his accounts of events.


This study describes how economic policy in Central America was profoundly influenced by Michael Porter’s thinking in the second half of the 1990s. These policy changes promoted international competition of Central American clusters and firms, and opened the region for international investment and tourism. The region experienced important increases in its economic integration, its international trade, foreign direct investment and tourist arrivals. Gross domestic product growth was accelerated in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Research limitations/implications

Like all case studies, this study has limits related to the generalizability of its conclusions. Additionally, it is not possible to determine the precise nature of the relation between the implementation of the regional economic strategy, and the impact on economic growth, integration, FDI attraction and exports.

Practical implications

The paper has several practical implications that relate to the design of regional economic strategies. First, it identifies policy areas that are more effective as part of regional strategies, and distinguishes them from those that should be resolved at the national level. Second, it suggests a process that can facilitate execution. Finally, it provides an example of the coordinating role that can be assumed by an academic institution such as INCAE.


The Central American Competitiveness Initiative provides a unique setting to study the implementation of competitiveness policy for several reasons. First, in all countries in Central America, Michael Porter’s diamond framework (1990) and cluster theory were officially adopted at the highest level of government. Second, in addition to their individual competitiveness strategies, all countries adopted a regional strategy for cooperation and economic integration. Finally, the Central American Competitiveness Initiative was founded on one of the first competitiveness think tanks of the world.


Competitiveness Review, vol. 25 no. 5
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1059-5422


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