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Peter Bunting | Investment for Central Manchester - case study

Published:Wednesday | June 22, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Peter Bunting

With Jamaica's bauxite/alumina industry already in intensive care in 2007, there was an urgent need to find a replacement for the sector that had been the mainstay of economic activity in central Jamaica for decades.

In Central Manchester, the industry put food on the table, supported schools, and built homes for constituents. Now all that was rapidly evaporating as a combination of falling bauxite prices and rising input costs led to a shutdown of the refineries at Alpart and Kirkvine. Residents of St Elizabeth are hopeful for the future of Alpart, but the Kirkvine plant in Manchester has never reopened.

Following wide-ranging consultations with constituents including the local business sector, with JAMPRO, and with financial institutions, it was determined that if there was to be life after bauxite/alumina, it would best be in the services sector.

As early as 2008, I articulated a vision for Central Manchester to become a centre of excellence for the knowledge-based industries and set about persuading stakeholders to buy into the vision. It would be founded primarily on three sectors - education, health, and information and communications technology (ICT).

While this article focuses on the ICT progress, significant investment has also been made in education - adding 2,000 new quality high-school spaces and new classroom blocks in five schools.

There has also been growth in health, as a substantial private investment has occurred at Hargreaves Memorial Hospital, and the Mandeville Regional Hospital has acquired adjacent lands to facilitate its upgrade to a Type A facility.

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry had already taken root in Montego Bay, Portmore and Kingston. BPO is an industry that covers a range from basic call centres up to knowledge-processing centres providing legal and accounting support, software development and technical-support services.

 

WELL POSITIONED

 

Therefore, Central Manchester seemed well positioned to compete for investment in BPO on account of its quality high schools, Northern Caribbean University, Church Teachers' College and the Catholic College.

The constituency had a ready pool of educated and trainable young people that could be employed across the value chain of the growing knowledge-based industry.

The first step towards implementing the vision was having the PNP commit, through its 2011 manifesto, to establishing an ICT centre in Mandeville. Then began a process of searching for investors and "speaking the vision into being".

By 2013, the search had led to Sutherland Global Services, and its head of global operations, K.S. Kumar. Sutherland, had already established operations in Kingston, and with the assistance of then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and the relevant ministers, Kumar and the Sutherland team were persuaded that Central Manchester was an attractive location to expand operations in Jamaica. Sutherland opened its first facility, of 100,000 square feet, in Mandeville last year.

 

Poised for Expansion

 

Today, Sutherland Global is poised to expand in Mandeville, from its current base at its Ward Avenue facility, to lease an additional 100,000 square feet of commercial space, which would generate an additional $120 million in payroll each fortnight, based on projections by the country director, Odetta Rockhead-Kerr.

This will bring the complement of Sutherland Global staff in Jamaica to around 5,000 with nearly half employed in Mandeville. The scale of this economic transfusion should transform Mandeville.

Of particular significance is the added social capital gained from the cooperation of Sutherland in designing the work model to facilitate the timetables for study of the college and university students it employs. This special initiative arose from discussions with the Government, which had expressed concerns to Kumar about how to fund tertiary students through their undergraduate programmes.

As Mrs Rockhead-Kerr has observed, and which is true of sustainable economic growth and development, generally, the addition of one job creates more jobs through demand for additional goods and services. As employees grow in numbers and income, they will provide demand for transportation, restaurants, entertainment, as well as professional and financial services.

Sutherland Global serves a clientele of leading companies around the world, including Fortune 500 companies. Jamaica will be showcased to these clients positively when they visit the local facilities on business.

This approach to soliciting investments can be replicated across Jamaica in BPO, as well as through investments in greenhouses, hydroponics, aquaculture, and tourism. Local communities should evaluate their competitive advantages as a basis to seek investments that are best suited for an area. What is common throughout Jamaica is the potential for development in the creative and knowledge-based industries. Our unique Jamaican culture and smart people provide a sustainable competitive advantage in these areas.

- Peter Bunting is member of parliament for Central Manchester. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.