Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Working class must share in economic growth

Published:Tuesday | January 22, 2019 | 12:13 AM

Seprod Group CEO Richard Pandohie has warned policymakers against a tunnel-vision focus on macroeconomic indicators while failing to expand human resource investment.

“I think our governments have consistently missed the boat when they talk about the NIR (net international reserves). At the end of the day, the only economy that really matters to the man on the road is his personal economy, and that has to be benefiting from the bigger economy,” he said.

In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Pandohie had some advice for policymakers interested in achieving the kind of turnaround Seprod has enjoyed under his stewardship over the last four years.

“We speak about foreign direct investments, we speak about attracting competent, efficient people here, but we also have to make sure that our workforce development is not left behind.

“The workforce needs to be invested and aligned to what’s happening, not by telling them to work harder, but by making them part of the process. It’s hard for people to be aligned and motivated if they see only one group or only one sector benefiting, but they are not a part of it,” he explained.

The Seprod Group boss continued to make the case that economic growth will not be sustainable if it is not inclusive.

“The pie has to be shared,” he insisted. “Everybody has to benefit, and there has to be equity in how the society rises. I see manufacturing as a key pillar in driving proper economic growth, and there is a lot of discussion about whether BPO (business process outsourcing) is right or whether tourism is right, or whatever service industry is right.

“It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but the fact remains that agriculture and manufacturing have to be key players if you’re gonna create highway jobs. And innovation and sustainability in our society have to be linked.”

Pandohie also bemoaned Jamaica’s decades-long focus on primary production in agriculture, which, he says, has stymied the efforts to trigger economic growth.

“We have always focused on just the primary part of it, so we play the lowest part of the value chain. We need to start doing the value-added processing and move up the chain. Take Seprod, for example. We have evolved from being a milk business in 2014 to being a dairy business now. Big difference!

“We have put our money where our mouth is, and my team’s job is to make sure that the people who have taken the risks and put their money down see the returns on that, but in a responsible way, because we have to take tough decisions, too, but we want make sure that we do this in a way that Jamaica and the Caribbean can grow.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com