Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Mark Ricketts | Jamaica has so much potential

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
China Harbour crewmen conducting geotechnical work on Marcus Garvey Road, Kingston. The Chinese have pitched a US$4-billion industrial park in Nain, St Elizabeth.

The Chinese have had under wraps, for some time, a massive plan for an industrial park in St Elizabeth. This could be a game-changer as far as Jamaica's development goes. What makes this undertaking meaningful is that it is bold, innovative, large-scale, and transformational.

Second, in the area of outreach, market positioning, and brand awareness, all key components of harnessing a country's potential, Prime Minister Holness' speech at the outreach session of the G7 Summit in Canada might have some spin-off benefits in aiding much-needed growth and development.

The PM was invited to the summit by the host, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his presentation to the large gathering of other non-G7 leaders was sufficiently impressive that he secured invitations from Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg to attend the Special Oceana Summit in Oslo and from Argentina's President Mauricio Macri to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. These opportunities provide the PM with leverage to induce and enlarge higher levels of investment, trade, collaboration, and engagement as is already occurring between Norway and the Caribbean Maritime Institute.

A third event that could have far-reaching implications for Jamaica's prospects for growth arose out of the Strategic Digital Leadership Conference that took place on Thursday, June 21 and in which the UWI's vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, highlighted the university's emphasis on leadership in the new digital technology age.

 

Reverse history

 

As conference speakers reminded everyone, digital transformation must be an integral component of business strategy if Caribbean countries are to reverse the history of low growth and high public debt.

These announcements, happenings, and developments are so uplifting in contrast to the oft-repeated times when we seem to have a preference for shooting ourselves in the foot. With the country's huge potential, it is so unfortunate that even when we can do it right, we seem to have a penchant for doing it wrong.

For example, Petrojam could have been such a showpiece for success, but instead, we turn it, as we do with many of our statutory bodies, into a gravy train fiasco driven by nepotism, cronyism, and tribalism. In a country short on high-level managerial directorship and leadership skills, we have a preference for loyalty that inspires confidence rather than emphasising merit and competence that assure performance.

Even in the end, when the Government had the opportunity to do the right thing, it hurriedly got the minister under whose portfolio the state entity falls to do the investigation. That farcical approach to correcting articulated ills in a major corporation does nothing to inspire the wider population to do better and keeps the country mired by a corrupt and concealed disposition.

 

New tomorrow

 

But we must go on and find hope in a new tomorrow, which is feasible given that Jinquan Iron and Steel Co Ltd (JISCO) is constructing a US$4-billion Jamaica-Gansu Circular Economy Industrial Park in St Elizabeth. The first phase of the construction will get under way next year and is expected to be completed in 2023, at which time some 20,000 jobs will be available.

A further 80,000 jobs are projected when the industrial complex is completed in 2035. The far-reaching nature of the entire concept is anchored initially by the Alpart alumina refinery, but as construction gets under way, the refinery will be counterbalanced by a large-scale industrial park of a circular economy, incorporating an electricity plant, mechanical fabrication, and the processing and manufacturing of goods for export. The contemplated bold and imaginative development does not stop as there will be limestone processing, aluminium oxide, and aluminium processing.

This should provide a turnaround for Jamaica, which has always had immense potential but has squandered its advantage by never sufficiently developing relevant expertise, first-rate managers, and creative leadership, while instilling confidence based on training, experience, and know-how.

Beyond having bauxite, Jamaica's advantage as a member of the wider Caribbean economic community is characterised by political stability, a high degree of marketisation, convenient transportation, and an ideal location as a freight hub connecting North America, South America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

 

Economic jump-start

 

Without Jamaicans complaining and finding a plethora of excuses, the country's asset base and location should have given it a leg-up in making significant gains on the global GDP chart, but that is not so, as the country's lower-order ranking is unimpressive. Hopefully, heightened expectations generated by JISCO can provide a jump-start for the nation's economy.

At a very impressive staging of the 9th Annual Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM) Roundtable, both the prime minister and Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Philips were in attendance. The seminar pointed out in a survey done by Dr Maurice McNaughton, MSBM, and Professor Evan Duggan, University of Alabama, that fewer than five per cent of firms listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange had implemented aspects of strategic digital leadership. Yes, they were aware of it, but, for most, that is as far as it went, or to put it in the language of the discipline, 'they had not declared an explicit digital agenda'.

It would be nice if digital technologies, including cloud computing, mobile, social media, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, became part of the business culture.

It is critical for business to move to this new level as "the digital ecosystem is transforming the way we live and it is creating new markets and competitive opportunities, and threats, for Caribbean organisations."

Sir Hilary titillated his audience somewhat when he proclaimed that he was the first digital leader of the university since he is the first person to have all the data for all four campuses of UWI. He was quite excited that there is now a link between UWI and the leading universities in China, where students, having started their studies here, will complete them in China as leaders in the new digital technology age. This is so important in moving the wider economy forward on a higher trajectory.

These are all encouraging developments. In today's world of deepening trading conflicts and international tremors, highly indebted, small-market economies are extremely vulnerable and must optimise their potential by being innovative, technologically savvy, and opportunity driven.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.