On the Corner with EPOC | St Thomas residents want support for small businesses
Cautiously optimistic that often-repeated plans to improve the infrastructure in the parish will become a reality this time around, residents of Duhaney Pen, St Thomas, are urging the Government to ensure that small businesses are supported in any scheme to grow the economy in the often-forgotten eastern parish.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness earlier this year announced that the parish is slated to get a major boost with the establishment of a new town centre for the capital, Morant Bay.
The town centre is slated to be constructed on the 25-acre lot which previously housed the Goodyear Tyre Factory.
Travelling to the parish is also slated to become easier, with the construction of a four-lane highway from Harbour View to Bull Bay, and the widening and improvement to the road between Bull Bay and Morant Bay.
Last Thursday, several residents of the parish were excited by the proposed developments as The Gleaner's On The Corner, with the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), made its latest stop in Duhaney Pen.
ECONOMIC TRAIN TO GROWTH
Having listened to co-chairman of EPOC, Keith Duncan, outline the role of the body in monitoring the Government's performance under the three-year International Monetary Fund standby agreement, the residents urged him to implore the Andrew Holness administration to ensure that small business operators in the parish are not forgotten.
"I believe the economic train to growth is through small business, so while we are clamouring for the big businesses to come, in the interim we should develop the smaller businesses and help those businesses to grow, which in turn will turn into big businesses," said Denver Howell.
He argued that training is needed to prepare residents of the underdeveloped parish to prepare for developments being planned by the Government.
"While we are clamouring for good road and urban centre around by Goodyear, I don't want when it comes finally, the people of St Thomas can't access it. The powers that be need to move now to start training the school leavers from now so they can be ready when the time comes," added Howell.
While agreeing with the call, Duncan urged the residents not to wait on the Government but to position themselves to be better able to capitalise on the opportunities.
"If we know where the economy is going; if we know the economy is going towards tourism, business processing outsourcing or call centres, or manufacturing; and we know the resources that you have in St Thomas, you have to seek out those resources, and as a group of businessmen get together and build partnerships," encouraged Duncan.
But a fired-up Howell was adamant that governmental support is needed to help the residents of St Thomas enjoy economic success.
"St Thomas has tried agriculture for many years and I don't see where agriculture is growing in the parish," said Howell.
"I believe the parish can shift dimension and go into health tourism. We have the Blue Mountain and we have clean water and we have Bath Fountain. What we need to do is upgrade our facilities like the Princess Margaret Hospital and invite the tourist to come and access the various natural resources."
He was supported by business operator Hansel Whyte, who argued that the Government needs to engage the residents to identify ways to empower them to help themselves so small businesses such as his can thrive.