Some 200 local companies have now officially signed on to the Jamaica Cluster Competitive Project (JCCP), which is poised to take the country into new and profitable frontiers by leveraging its world-famous brands and culture, thereby making local firms more internationally competitive and fostering economic growth.
In an interview with JIS News, former Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Mosina Jordan, who played a leading role in introducing the project here, describes the JCCP as vibrant and dynamic, having grown by leaps and bounds since it began in September 2002.
The Jamaica Competitiveness Cluster Project (JCCP) team (from left), Director, AgriBusiness Cluster, Ken Hynes ; Director Tourism Cluster, Imani Duncan; Project Director, JCCP, David Rabkin; Administrative Officer, Michelle Graham, and AgriBusiness Consultant, Mike Lumsden.
She explains that the cluster approach is aimed at improving the growth and international competitiveness of Jamaica’s non-traditional and traditional exports and strengthening them.
“The cluster concept is a new approach that seeks to address the development and implementation of competitive strategies at the inter and intra firm level,” she notes. For example, all the stakeholders involved in coffee production, from the farming stage to the retailer, form a cluster.
Miss Jordan points out that this concept builds trust, networking and a shared vision for co-operation, “because there is a common interest and a common objective, to get the product to the end user and for everybody to make a profit in the process”.
The project was realized following a 1999 cluster competitiveness presentation made by Michael Fairbanks of OnTheFrontier, a consulting group out of Washington DC, at a Mission Directors’ Conference.
“His presentation was so profound that I came back to Jamaica and said we would have to bring him here,” she says.
The former Mission Director explains that Mr. Fairbanks was invited to Jamaica to meet with the government and the private sector, and that his concept was very well received. The two-year project is now administered by the Jamaica Exporters Association (JEA) and implemented by OnTheFrontier, chaired by Mr. Fairbanks.
Similar projects have been piloted across a range of industries in countries worldwide, including several Caribbean and Latin American states, such as the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and Honduras. These initiatives are being supported by the USAID, the World Bank, national governments and Chambers of Commerce.
The US$1.4 million project in Jamaica is being funded by the Government, the Department of International Development (DFID), the USAID, and the JEA.
Its objectives are a national competitiveness culture, which will facilitate the development of a shared competitiveness vision and strategy at the cluster and national levels; strengthening competitive clusters, which requires working with three or more clusters to facilitate networking and to enhance competitiveness at the intra and inter firm levels; improving service provision, which requires the strengthening of local capacity to continue this analytical and technical support; improving the wider environment for business; and creating an appropriate forum for stakeholder dialogue.
Ambassador Jordan says the project is on schedule, and has been over-subscribed, as the original target was 20 companies per cluster. However, there are in excess of 60 companies in the agro-business cluster, 80 for tourism and 60 in the entertainment cluster. She points out that the agro business cluster has gained remarkable momentum with work already started through partnerships for the strengthening and expansion of a grading programme for scotch bonnet peppers.
Director of the agro-business cluster, Ken Hynes, tells JIS News that the creation of a pepper mash company is one of several initiatives being pursued to address some of the gaps identified in the jerk and hot pepper sauce industry. “We have identified four or five specific areas that need to be addressed to improve the ability of this cluster of firms to compete internationally,” he adds.
He notes that one of the main problems facing the group of firms is the lack of a reliable supply of key inputs (peppers). “The reason why it’s key, is that they could have the best marketing campaign, sales channels and distribution, but they don’t have enough input to actually make the product, to get the product on the shelf, so all that becomes worthless,” he says.
The focus, therefore, is to increase the number of pepper mash companies that will buy peppers and create preserves that can be stored throughout the year and in so doing, they will regulate the supply of this key input, Mr. Hynes explains.
This cluster consists of approximately 50 firms, including Walkerswood, King Pepper and Grace Kennedy. “It’s a full spectrum of firms,” he says.
The Bureau of Standards is on board and will be working with cluster members to assist them with meeting United States (US) processed food standards.
The JCCP has acquired market reports for seven leading eco-tourist generating markets, conducted by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO). So far, choices made include a focus on the nature adventure segment of the market; and a survey of tour operators in the northeast United States, the United Kingdom and the Northwest US.
This cluster is working in two groups – marketing and distribution, and tours and attractions. The first group will decide how to best locate and effectively market this segment and the latter will work on developing the product experiences to standards that this segment requires. The cluster has also established strong links with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA). This group’s reference page can be located at www.whatsonjamaica.com, which is also a cluster member.
Director of the project, David Rabkin, explains that based on real international market research, conducted by the JCCP, three areas have been decided on for the tourism cluster. These include the ‘Taste of Jamaica’ package, which involves cuisine, culture and linkages with small hoteliers, all at one integrated price, using one integrated travel agent.
Commenting on the ‘Jamaica Naturally’ package, Mr. Rabkin says: “Everybody talks about the wonderful nature that’s here in Jamaica, but as a tourist, it is very difficult to access that, so this process, by collaborating with nearly 90 firms, has actually put the best together in these tours”. The third package, ‘Roots Jamaica’, will allow tourists to experience the music, the history and the artistic culture of island.
Mr. Rabkin tells JIS News that tourism is a classic industry that evolves at a rapid pace, where the strategy of sun, sea and sand is not a novelty today. “It was an excellent strategy 25 years ago, but the reason things have stayed the same is because the local firms have not been able to learn at the rate of their international competitors. So, we are not just picking these tours because this is an answer forever, because it’s not, but it will take us a step forward and by focusing on that learning, enabled by the trust, we know that years down the line, these same firms will be able to renew themselves,” he says. The Tourism Cluster is headed by Imani Duncan.
Meanwhile, Director of the Entertainment Cluster, Marcela Escobari, informs JIS News that since the project began, a very representative group from music, theatre and film have been surveyed to find out that they wanted to focus on, and what were the gaps in the industry that are stopping them from making more profits out of their talent.
She says that one group has identified distribution and marketing as one of those gaps. “Jamaican firms, most of them studios, managers and artistes, hold a very small part of the supply chain, and in an industry that is very concentrated on the retailing and distribution by very big firms that control the market, we take just a very small part of the value that is made in the music industry,” she points out.
Miss Escobari adds that with the advent of internet and different forms of distribution, “there are opportunities out there for our artistes to take more of that value chain”.
The second group’s strategy is to fortify the live performance industry, which she describes as “a very vibrant industry.but it needs help, either in the form of entertainment venues that will make these kinds of investments more profitable, or making linkages with tourism”.
Capacity building will be the focus of the third group. “There is a need to perfect the industry, so that it makes it much easier for them to reach into international markets successfully. Jamaica has talked about the potential in the industry for a long time but never been able to realise it. So now we are going to go on a campaign to really get data to know where we stand and what it will for this product to really get to that potential,” Miss. Escobari says.
She notes that the groups will begin working in two weeks and the energy and the participation so far is above expectations.
Co-ordinator of the JCCP, Beverly Morgan, tells JIS News that one of the critical things that has emerged from the project is the increase in trust among people and companies.
“It’s quantifiable over the long term, because it allows people to collaborate, to work together, to achieve ends on which they have agreed, with far less friction. It reduces transaction cost. It’s been really important, to see the growth and ease of that collaboration,” she says.
Commenting on sustainability of the project, Mrs. Morgan says: “What I think is going to make it ultimately sustainable for Jamaica is precisely increasing the capacity for learning.all projects come to an end and it is my fervent hope that when this one does, the traces that would be left indelibly in the minds of the firms and entrepreneurs is that we can work together, we can achieve things, we are not each other’s competitors. We need to collaborate, do our homework and be friends”.
The Co-ordinator explains that having started the work, there are more things to be done and that based on the JCCP’s performance so far, she is positive that more funding can be granted to broaden the number of clusters. The project began by looking at the national industrial policy under which there are eight sectors, which have been selected as having the potential for development.
“We started out by doing a diagnostic of these sectors to decide what were the three hottest ones.we are hoping that there will be more resources brought on to enable us to look at additional sectors. We hope that we will have gathered enough momentum.so that we will be able to work with firms to make them stronger and internationally competitive.” Mrs. Morgan says.