Lennie Little-White | Creative industry is a game-changer
"The creative industry presents the greatest potential for maximising employment for Jamaicans while developing an export market for all Things Jamaican."
Believe it or not, those are the words of the legendary business icon, the late Honourable Carlton Alexander, who many consider the major catalyst in the flowering of GraceKennedy to become a giant in Jamaica's manufacturing and merchandising landscape.
Over the years of producing films for the private sector, I used every opportunity to pick the brains of the successful business magnates for whom I worked. In the latter part of his tenure at Grace, I had audience with Mr Alexander for a documentary I was producing. I asked him what he would do differently if he were starting over.
To my shock and surprise, Mr Alexander said that local manufacturing could not propel Jamaica on the world stage because "we do not produce enough raw material to match international levels of production". He told me that when we package ketchup here, we are merely bottling tomato paste imported from Mexico: "We in Jamaica will never compete with Heinz or Del Monte. We do not have the cheap energy necessary to convert bauxite to aluminium. On that score, we can never compete with the USA or Canada."
Mr Alexander went on to say that Jamaica had to find a way to "bottle and export" the indigenous creativity of Miss Lou, Bob Marley, and others of that ilk. "Our creativity is a gold mine waiting to be developed, refined, and exported to the world. Jamaica's creative industry can be our competitive advantage." All this he told me before Brand Jamaica became today's favourite catch phrase of millennials and politicians.
If we believe in Carlton Alexander's vision, the creative industries could be a game-changer in providing new and sustainable jobs for Jamaicans, many of whom are now marginalised in unemployment statistics. Before you laugh out loud, let me define what creative industries encompass.
This large umbrella called the creative industry covers advertising, architecture, antiques, craft, fashion, fine arts, performing arts (music, dance, drama, including theatre arts), software development, video games, television, radio, film, animation, publishing, copyright licences, patents, and trademark registration. For most, this non-exhaustive list will come as a big surprise because most of us only consider indigenous craft workers as creative-industry practitioners.
What are some of the immediate benefits of the creative industries? According to Minister Olivia Grange, the creative industry employ a greater percentage of women compared to traditional industries. She sees another immediate benefit in the reduction of crime - especially among the disenfranchised youth - with the introduction of new professional opportunities.
A good example of this is the University of the West Indies' Community Outreach Project led by Professor Ian Boxill, which has introduced film production to the youth in the belly of August Town. Young men and women now have the potential for employment outside of traditional areas, while deflecting the attraction of deviant behaviour, which is one root cause of crime.
Area of entrepreneurship
Senator Damion Crawford states that the creative industries must be given space and tangible support to grow because this could become a potential "area of entrepreneurship for the poor", who do not have ready access to development capital.
Tourism flourishes based, in part, on our geographic location, our natural physical beauty, great cuisine, and courteous staff. But hotels require massive capital to construct buildings, plus install First-World operational equipment. Besides, it is known that less than 50 per cent of the tourist dollar remains in Jamaica. In our lifetime, the average Jamaican will remain a valuable foot soldier in the hospitality industry but will never become a major owner of our hotels. Reality check!
Consider other capital-intensive major industries like bauxite. These all require major financing and present many loopholes for repatriation of profit to metropoles, plus Cayman and St Lucia. The average Jamaican will never climb the pinnacle of ownership and control of Big Business even if we buy stocks and bonds. Contrast this with the manpower needs of the creative industries, which are largely dependent on brain and intellect and less on expensive and onerous bank financing.
The time is right for Jamaica to seize the moment and energise the sleeping giant called the creative industry. Howard McIntosh, who is chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board, continues to live in hope: "Creativity is at the centre of who we are as a people. Our ability to punch above our weight is due, in large measure, to the creative industries. It is truly amazing that despite all the talk, successive governments have failed to put in place the necessary legislation and economic structures to ensure global success."
Talk shops are par for the course in Jamaica. White Papers and Green Papers are aplenty and mothballed in random desk drawers of government ministers, permanent secretaries, and senior civil servants. If we are to exploit the massive potential of the creative economy, successive governments must get serious and think outside of the box.
Minister Grange opines, "The creative economy contributes to cultural diversity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and technological advancement." Wouldn't it be wonderful if both sides of the political divide could unite around this nascent industry, which gives more real meaning and substance to the Brand Jamaica moniker?
Having planted a seed, my next column will present practical things we can do to start the process of making the creative industries the indigenous engine of growth envisaged by one of Jamaica's legendary business icons, the late Carlton Alexander.