Haiti was supposed to become the "Taiwan of the Caribbean" but instead it suffered through economic collapse brought on by political instability.
"This is: Been there, done that," Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist who teaches at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said of the Caracol project.
Because of the tenants' tax breaks, outside investors will have more to gain than Haitians, he said.
"This is not a strategy that is meant to provide Haiti with any measure of sustainable development ... The only reason those industries come to Haiti is because the country has the lowest wages in the region," Dupuy said.
Sae-A will pay employees Haiti's minimum wage, which is $5 a day. Workers will be eligible for bonuses based on performance.
Hillary Clinton acknowledged the controversy associated with the project last month but argued that private enterprise strengthens economies.
"You cannot have development in today's world without partnering with the private sector, and that has been our mantra, and we are now creating examples," Clinton said at her husband's Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
"Are there pitfalls? Are there problems? Of course there are â¿¿ there is with any kind of organized effort at development. But the fact is that including the private sector gives developing economies new opportunities."
Backers of Caracol stress that it will bring tens of thousands of jobs to an area where subsistence farming has long been the only alternative to migration, and Jean Cherenfant, mayor of Cap-Haitien, a seaside city 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Caracol, is among them. He sees the facility as a boon for the region.
"We don't have a lot of employers here, and we're talking about several hundred thousand jobs," Cherenfant said by telephone. "I will not go along with those people who are pessimistic."
Proponents also say they are working to address potential problems. They say they have put money into multiple communities in the north in an effort to prevent Caracol from spawning shantytowns like the ones that sprang up in Port-au-Prince decades ago. The projects include new housing, road improvements and even help for farms.