'Embrace the Chinese' ... They're here to stay
Business people who constitute the St Mary Chamber of Commerce are spearheading the revival of the dormant chamber to use it as the vehicle to drive transformation in the parish capital, Port Maria.
Plagued by issues facing other towns across Jamaica such as traffic congestion, illegal vending and poor garbage collection, this time around the chamber is looking to recruit new business people, outside of its traditional membership.
"What we are concentrating on right now is the small business people, like some of the higglers, barber shops, and taxi drivers, to get the chamber back into place," Paul Williams, a member of the chamber, told last Wednesday's mini-forum hosted by The Gleaner at Beaches Resort in St Mary.
"We used to have a lot of business people who were very active in the chamber some time ago, but as you all know, the Chinese (nationals) are here taking over the town of Port Maria. So what we are concentrating on right now is the smaller businesses which belong to our people, really. One of our merchants had to convert his grocery store into a farm store, and this is the sort of thing that we are dealing with," Williams said.
However, businesswoman Maxine Marsh, who is also president of the
St Mary Lay Magistrates' Association, believes this portrayal of the Chinese is unfair, given that there has never been a coordinated or consistent effort to engage them in development issues for the parish capital. And she insisted that language was not a major communication barrier, as some people have said.
"Nobody goes near them; they are just totally ignored. So if they have a headache, they come to me, because they don't trust anybody else," Marsh declared. "Port Maria does not have anybody that they can go to if they have a problem. Honestly, that's the whole problem."
A different approach
Meanwhile, Brian Roper, who manages Beaches Boscobel Resort, which is near to Stewart Town where the Chinese nationals dominate the business sector, suggested a different approach.
"We treat the Chinese as if they're aliens, and they're not. We have to embrace these Chinese and look at them as people that want to help our community as opposed to people who have come and taken over our community. We have to find ways to bring them into our community. We can't treat them as 'the Chinese'."
He pointed out that the influx of Spanish-owned hotels had sparked similar fears among members of the hotel industry who have since learnt their lessons.
Roper offered this advice: "Fight them all you want. They get bigger, they get better, and they are here to stay. So, join them."