Byles to investors ... 'BPO sector needs you'
President and chief executive officer of Sagicor Group Jamaica, Richard Byles, is encouraging the Government to enlist the support of the wider private sector to invest in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector to boost economic growth and create jobs.
He was speaking against the background of revelations by Michael Lee-Chin, chairman of the relatively recently formed Economic Growth Council, that he was aiming to put Jamaica in a position to achieve growth of five per cent within five years.
Asked if the five per cent was achievable, Byles, who is also co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), said "there is always a place for a special thrust. I am a proponent of it, and I support the efforts to have Michael Lee-Chin make a special effort to bring in investors here, to encourage Jamaicans to invest more, and to encourage the diaspora to invest more".
Saved by tourism
With anaemic economic growth in Jamaica over many years, he said that "what has saved us, in a way, is that tourism has continued to grow, and we need to continue to nurture it. There's a lot more that needs to be had out of tourism than we are currently getting. We are just scratching the surface with tourism".
Referring to the BPO sector, Byles said: "I want to tell you that is something that we have to get serious about."
It costs about US$250,000 to buy the land and build a hotel room, and the average employment per room in the business is about 1.5 Jamaicans. But it costs US$10,000 to set up a seat in the BPO sector, and if a centre runs two or three shifts, the average employment would be two or three Jamaicans, he said.
"And these are people who have in every case gone to high school and graduated, stuck with it, learn the lesson, pass their exams, or they may even have gone to a tertiary institution. And that is the job they are starting in. So they earn a higher wage than in the tourism business," said the Sagicor president.
"And they are a set in the population that you want to reward because they are young, they are the future, they have sacrificed in school. You can't have those people graduating and sitting on sidewalk. That is not encouragement to those who are in school looking on," he added.
Sagicor is the third-largest operator in the hotel sector in Jamaica. The group, through its subsidiary, Sagicor Real Estate X Fund, has previously announced plans to invest in the BPO sector, particularly the provision of operating spaces for such businesses.
Sagicor X Fund disclosed plans last year for a US$10 million project to develop BPO space.
On Thursday, Byles indicated that his company was willing to heed calls to do more in that market - once the numbers made sense - and that he was waiting to be approached.
"... I think somebody should call together the private sector and say, 'Look, I want a commitment from all of you. We are going to build a great BPO tech park. Call the amount of square foot - 200,000 square foot with this amenity, that amenity. Here's the cost of it. We want all of you to subscribe to it. All of us are going out there to market it. This is a new opportunity for Jamaica. Let's all participate in it'," said Byles.
"You need somebody of credibility. Call Sagicor to the table. On an initiative like that, I would go. I would listen, and I would be inclined to invest, subject to the numbers making sense," he said.
"It is that kind of national effort I think we need to make to break through and be able to employ substantial numbers of people and add to our GDP," Byles said at an EPOC media briefing.
Noting that the BPO business "is a quick start-up", he said it would take between 15 and 18 months to build out a 100,000 facility and have it up and running, "or even 12 months if you have a good contractor".
He said "that is something that we can do and can contribute to Michael Lee-Chin's five per cent GDP in five years."