JIS News

President of the Jamaica Promotions (JAMPRO) Corporation, Patricia Francis is expressing confidence in Jamaica’s investment potential. She says this is so as the island has experienced substantial growth over the years, and is now viewed as an attractive destination for investments from overseas businesses.
Speaking to JIS News in a recent interview, the JAMPRO President says there have been marked improvements in the investment facilitation process on the government’s part, which in turn, has made the general investment climate in Jamaica more encouraging to foreign and local investors to pursue their business interests.
A recently published World Bank publication titled ‘Doing Business in 2005’ positively rated Jamaica six out of 10 for being a business friendly country for prospective foreign investors.
Commenting on the World Bank rating, Mrs. Francis says while she is pleased with the acknowledgment given of Jamaica’s improved ranking as a viable business destination, there is much more that needs to be accomplished.
“I think that it just shows that when the government invests in modernising itself, what the impact of that can be, and in my view, it should be an ongoing process and the government should continue to invest in modernisation,” she explains.
She says as JAMPRO is by and large, an investment promotion agency catering not only to foreign businesses but also to home grown entrepreneurs as well, it was critical to further advance the process required for the establishment of business, as there is still a level of bureaucratic challenges that exists.
The JAMPRO President notes that while “pockets of modernisation has taken place, and reduced the level of bureaucracy in those areas,” broader changes need to be made throughout government ministries and agencies to make the facilitation process of starting a business easier for prospective businesspersons.
She says streamlining the process will have definite positive spin offs for the economy. “We [Jamaica] rate a six out of 10, so we need to move that now up to an eight, so we begin to see real changes which the local and foreign businessman can feel, and that translates into greater profit. It then translates into more taxes, it then translates into more jobs, it translates into an economy that works better, and we believe that if you modernise government and make it less of a hassle to interact with government then people can run their businesses much better,” Mrs. Francis notes.
She explains that JAMPRO’s role is essentially, to act as a middle person between government and the prospective business owner. “What we try and do, is that when we bring a project to the table, and we recognise that this is a project which has a great likelihood of going forward, if it can get the various approval through the government process then we try and bring together all the players who are going to be involved in the investment process.”
Speaking further, she adds, “we then try and sensitise them to the various issues that may arise as a result of a project, and it also then allows the prospective investor to have a face-to-face with the people who run the institutions who are going to be providing approval.”
In the case of foreign investors, Mrs. Francis says as they often originate from countries of a different jurisdiction and “do things in a different way, so they have to understand the nuances of our system.if we are dealing with a local investor, you may still have quite a bit of difference between their understanding and their interpretation of what they have read in a rule-book, and in fact, what it is that the regulator is saying.”
Turning to the successes that JAMPRO has had a pivotal hand in realising, she tells JIS News that the efforts the promotions agency has been making over the last few years, will result in an expansion of 40 per cent of hotel rooms available in Jamaica. She also informs that considerable impact has also been realised in the information and communication technology business.
“This ranges from everything to do with telecoms all the way to back office services,” she says. Companies presently operating in Jamaica, Mrs. Francis says, were carrying out such duties as providing payroll services for the United States-based automobile maker, General Motors. She says other companies were also scheduled to begin their operations here soon. These include such US telecommunications providers such as AT & T and Verizon, who would be providing customer service to its US customers from Jamaica.
Mrs. Francis says other sectors that JAMPRO has had significant success with over the last year period are the bauxite and film industries. “On the investment side, I would have to say that activity in the film industry has been really impressive over the last year and we are hoping to continue that into this year.”
She says high profile film projects such as the ‘One Love’ movie that was shot in Jamaica and is scheduled to be launched in Europe in April, as well as a United States television show which was filmed in Port Antonio, which employed a lot of local people and put a lot of money into the parish.”
Mrs. Francis reveals that the total foreign direct investment (FDI) that came into Jamaica in 2004 was approximately $700 million. She says the figure may even be higher, as the sum is not inclusive of the numbers generated from domestic investments.
Through the tourism industry, she says the country saw at least $150 million spent in the last year. Meanwhile the bauxite alumina industry accounted for $250 million in 2004. Meanwhile, In terms of job creation, she highlights the information technology (IT) sector as a primary generator of employment, with an estimated 3,000 jobs being created.
She notes however, that the IT sector is a “high employment, low capital investment” undertaking, so the money pumped into the Jamaican economy in terms of “the investment side would have been much smaller.” Speaking of untapped industries, the JAMPRO President cited agro-business and entertainment as promising, viable sectors viable for local investors.
In relation to agro-business, she stresses that since the tourism sector in Jamaica was presently going through an expansion phase, opportunities were likely to become available for investors interested in the provision of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as processed juices, and packaged vegetables.
She says as hoteliers aim to better manage their inventories, “I think the way we present our food and the link between the farm gate and the hotel gate, there needs to be processing that takes care of ensuring that just even packaging, that it is refrigerated, the standards are good and the quality is consistent.”
Citing the example of callaloo now being sold in supermarkets cut and packaged, Mrs. Francis explains that the tourism sector appreciates, “this kind of sophisticated packaging”. Vegetables or fruits that are prepared at various processing stages, she suggests, are presented viable options for hoteliers “because it cuts down on their time and effort in having to prepare before it even gets to them.” In terms of entertainment, she says as Jamaica is now receiving more European visitors who have diverse tastes with respect to entertainment choices given their liking for festivals and unique attractions. “It’s not simply music we are talking about, it’s entertainment,” she emphasises, “what are people going to do other than being on the beach and so we have to begin to think about it.”
“It’s not just rafting anymore, now we see people with all sorts of attractions coming on, climbing trees, white river rafting, it’s just an open book of what you are going to do with people when they are here and of course, heritage tourism becomes a big part of that now, how are we going to bring culture and heritage, package it, and be able to present it as an opportunity for entertainment through the tourism sector. So there is just a wide range of things that can be done,” Mrs. Francis explains. Making an assessment of Jamaica’s standing as an investment-friendly country alongside other islands in the Caribbean, she says Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago stand out as the two countries doing well in the Caribbean region.
As for countries within the hemisphere, Mrs. Francis says, “The Dominican Republic is going through a financial crisis now, similar to what we went through in the 1990’s, so they are a hot contender for us, and of course in Central America as democracy grows, we are seeing more competition there now than we have seen in the past.” Irrespective of the increased competition that Jamaica will inevitably have to face, the JAMPRO President remains confident that the island has come a far way, and has more to achieve.
She says boosting investment opportunities means that, “the more the economy grows, is the better it is for all of us. It’s more jobs which means that people can spend more money which means the domestic community benefits at the end of the day”.

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