The New Caribbean Economy

A keen observer of growing markets in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Russell Rainey realized long ago that exporting goods and services to the Caribbean could keep his company competitive. Rainey Compression Essentials, manufactures and distributes post-operative compression apparel garments worn after plastic surgery, and Rainey, the company’s president and CEO, says the islands are increasingly becoming a cosmetic surgery destination.

“There’s a lot of surgery going on in the Caribbean. It is a market for people who have surgery while on vacation,” says Rainey, whose 14-employee firm is based in Atlanta. “We reached out to doctors in the Dominican Republic, and they embraced our product, and we began to export it. The cosmetic surgery industry is a cutting-edge market. In the last few years, it has come to the forefront and is always looking for better ways to do things.”

Identifying opportunities in the region, Rainey, who has other international clients, posted revenues just above the $1 million mark in 2007. He expects that figure grew by 10% to 15% for 2008. Rainey says being diversified is helping his company weather the U.S. recession. “We’ve seen a decline in U.S. sales but a growth in our global sales. It’s a balancing act,” he says. “We’re finding that globally, if the dollar is down, then people feel like they get better value by buying U.S. If you have a product you can sell to a global market, that will give you leverage during turbulent times. The more global sales a company has, the more stable its bottom line will be.”

Rainey is one of many entrepreneurs and investors who has discovered the new face of Caribbean industry. While tourism, real estate, and agricultural exports are usually thought of, as the islands’ big businesses (and rightfully so), many of the islands have begun to embrace new economic drivers that include household consumer goods, building products, automotive parts, and financial services. And investors and entrepreneurs in Europe, North America, and Asia have taken notice; the islands have attracted more than $5 billion in net foreign direct investment annually.

Consider that while U.S. markets have been flailing, many Caribbean nations have been showing growth, despite economic ties to the U.S. economy. The Dominican Republic posted an economic growth rate of 9.3% in 2005, 10.7% in 2006, and 8.5% in 2007. Jamaica’s economy grew 1.4% in 2005, 2.5% in 2006, and 1.5% in 2007. Trinidad and Tobago showed economic growth of 8% in 2005, 12% in 2006, and 5.5% in 2007. The gross domestic product in the Bahamas and Barbados increased 3.1% and 4.2%, respectively, in 2007.

The good news is that the spending power in the region has created opportunities on the import/export front. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Caribbean islands imported more than $18.5 billion in U.S. goods alone in 2007, making it the third-largest Latin American export market for American products. Other key factors that make the Caribbean attractive are its close proximity to the U.S., business-friendly trade programs, and the