U.S. business in Africa: A win-win proposition

On August 4th, more than 45 African heads of state and government arrived in Washington DC for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.  This is a great opportunity for U.S. businesses to enhance relations with one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions (which Ernst & Young has described as the second-most attractive for investment): a win-win proposition for job creation and development at home and abroad.

At Jacobs, we have been investing in Africa since 1999, when we began providing engineering support in Morocco to OCP, the world’s leading phosphate producer. Over the years our relationship with OCP evolved into a partnership. Our joint venture with them is now the largest engineering company in the country, focused on developing Morocco as a global center of phosphates expertise and addressing numerous local challenges in North and West Africa. We place special emphasis on large building and infrastructure projects in the areas of transportation, water, healthcare, education and urban development.

Through our joint venture, Jacobs provides professional services to more than 120 projects, employing 24,000 workers. In fact, we were recently honored as one of the top five “Best Employers in Morocco” at a ceremony sponsored by the country’s Ministry of Employment and Professional Training. Of the approximately 1,500 Jacobs employees currently in Africa, more than 1,000 of them are in our joint venture in Morocco; with the balance in other areas such as the Republic of South Africa and Kenya. Our intention is to double that number by the end of the decade.

In growing our business in Africa, we chose Morocco to be our platform for expanding to regional markets because we have been impressed by the country’s stability and maturity, its support of our fundamental need to work ethically and transparently, and the Moroccan government’s commitment to bilateral agreements that support the expansion of private sector opportunities. Morocco has such agreements with countries like Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Gabon.

When we enter a region, we look for partners who can work with us in a regional context across many countries. Morocco has an excellent network among key African markets, plus a familiarity with local leaders and business practices. Further, Morocco has a well-developed infrastructure and skilled human resources, and it continues to enact reforms and expand investments in key sectors, ranging from tourism and energy exploration to agriculture and manufacturing. It is the only country in Africa with which the U.S. has a Free Trade Agreement, and it also has similar collaborative trade agreements with partners in Europe and the Middle East.

As Jacobs expands its operations and scope on the African continent, we are making an enduring commitment to use the local workforce, supported by our global expertise and resources. To this end, last year we established Jacobs Academy in Casablanca, a program that trains Morocco’s local leadership and workforce to equip them to deliver major engineering and construction projects throughout the region. Through continuing education, training and skills certification, we intend to create an engineering and construction workforce in Morocco to support the export of professional services throughout Africa.

By increasing our reach in Africa we grow our business, increase jobs here in the U.S. and in Africa, help foster stronger ties between our two regions, and promote much-needed development on that vibrant and fast-developing continent.

Martin is president and CEO of Jacobs, one of the world’s largest and most diverse providers of technical professional and construction services.