MAILED: Sept. 22, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- Aruba, a small island in the South Caribbean about 20 miles north of Venezuela, was looking for economic advice. A United Nations consultant suggested it look to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Maria Dacosta, associate professor of economics, and Dale A. Johnson, professor of management information systems, were chosen by the United Nations World Development Committee to participate in the Third Annual Economic Summit in Aruba.
"Our professors were there to advise Aruba on possible economic strategies," said James Egan, professor emeritus of economics. "They also were trying to get the counterproductive aspects out of their economy."
Dacosta and Johnson were invited to the third summit, while Egan was invited to do staff training in 1995 and make macroeconomic policy recommendations at the 1996 summit. UW-Eau Claire faculty were invited to the summits because of relationships that developed through Manuel Vanegas, head of the U.N. World Development Project in Aruba. Vanegas taught economics at UW-Eau Claire in the early 1980s.
"He was impressed with us when he was at UW-Eau Claire," Egan said. "We made a good impression on him and the government planning staff during our two-week project analysis program so he invites our professors back every year."
The 1997 economic summit, which was attended by more than 250 people from several nations, was intended to improve the growing independent economy of Aruba, said Egan. Goals of the summit included identifying ways to maximize tax revenues from the Aruban economy to provide more social services and to diversify the economy so it isn't as dependent on international tourism.
"They've done so well in that area, but the tourism industry can fluctuate at times," Egan said. "The people of Aruba want to be economically successful in more than one area."
While Aruba has been successful economically in the past decade, one of Dacosta's concerns is that Aruban children aren't required to attend school. While an Aruban who has graduated from high school is fluent in four languages -- Dutch, English, Spanish and their own language, Papiamento -- there is no mandatory education law.
"I showed and proved to them with numbers the advantages of education," Dacosta said of her speech at the summit, noting that her comments were featured on the front page of Aruba's national newspaper. "They need to realize all of the benefits of education."
Johnson spoke about opportunities for economic diversification and employee re-education for telecommunications in Aruba, including international banking and Internet consulting. Since Aruba is a long way from trading partners, it needs to close the gap, he said.
"What they need is a way to eliminate time and distance in regard to other trading partners," Johnson said. "Telecommunications could really help them do that. They need to strategically plan what they want to do in that realm; it could really benefit them."
Working with the United Nations and addressing issues that concern the economy of Aruba were the most exciting aspects of the summit for Dacosta and Johnson.
"Being associated with the United Nations is so prestigious and rewarding," Dacosta said. "I had never been to Aruba before. I very much enjoyed the interaction with the people."
"I liked working with Aruba and the United Nations," Johnson said. "They want immediate answers to their problems, and I like that."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 23, 1997