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The new old Recife

Pernambuco begins to invest R$ 33 million in the construction of its Digital Port

The project of the digital Port is beginning to leave the drawing board and change the scenery of the old part of the city of Recife, on the margin of the Capibaribe river, the borough that gave birth to the city some 464 years ago. Old storage depots and colonial lofts in the zone of the port, in the past brothels, are being taken over by information technology and telecommunications companies. Close to 250 of them should be installed in the borough by the year 2005, turning over R$ 400 million.

The project, launched last year, will receive investments from the state of Pernambuco of R$ 33 million, obtained by the privatization of the Energy Company of Pernambuco (Celpe), the former state electricity company. Of this total R$ 23 millions are to be invested in the re-urbanization of the borough. Another R$ 10 million will go to financing companies. The government has already deposited R$ 5 million in the Venture Capital Fund, that will begin to operate in August and which should have another R$ 5 million from private partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank (BID) and the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep). More than R$10 million will help feed the Human Capital Fund, destined to train personnel and to import information technology big names to beef up the companies staff. “We are not a common technology pool, but a platform for business”, explains Claudio Marinho, the Secretary of Science and Technology of the State of Pernambucano, the brain behind the project.

The IT sector had an income of R$ 300 million last year in Pernambucano, having grown 8%. Putting this together with the sector of telecommunications, the total market income was around R$ 1.3 billion. This represents more than 60% of the farming gross internal product, the most traditional economic activity of the region. The vitality comes from the universities, creators of talent. Eight of them graduate close to 1,000 students in computing every year. One of the best the country, the Center of Information Technology of the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) has 50 doctors and 300 students on post-graduate courses. There, until only a short time ago, the destiny of the work force would have been companies in the Central-South and even abroad such as the headquarters of Microsoft in the United States, a frequent recruiter of Pernambucano professionals. Created five years ago, the Center of Studies and Advanced Systems of Recife (Cesar) turned back the brain drain by identifying commercial partners and by developing technologies capable of putting together good and lucrative business deals.

Now mature, presently with nine more projects about to hit the market, the Cesar is one of the driving forces behind the Digital Port. All of its administration and operational structure is being transferred to a two-floor, 19th- century house in Old Recife. The present Port Authority building, belonging to the Navy, will be occupied by research and post-graduation laboratories. The Information Technology Center, Softex, incubator of 34 small export-oriented software companies, will be transferred to the installations of an old printing plant at a cost of R$ 6 million. The warehouses of the Port of Recife are being adapted to receive the Business and Information Center, a type of digital shopping center with more than 30 companies.

The idea is to create an informal living space between historic patrimony and modern technology. Close to R$ 19 million have been invested, over the last few years, in the revitalizing of the borough and in the urbanization of the shanty town called Rato, which grew on the ruins of the port. In five years, the number of people who work in the borough should increase from 11,000 to 16,000, attracting restaurants, hotels, and other support services. Until next year, there should be 100 technology companies working in Old Recife.