Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Businesses fear disruption in FCJ divestment squabble

Published:Wednesday | November 6, 2019 | 12:27 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the White Marl Small Industrial Complex in St Catherine as the impending divestment of the warehouse facility may force the relocation or closure of several businesses, some of which have been operating there for more than four decades.

Devon Samuels, proprietor of mattress manufacturer My Foam Company Limited, said that business owners were informed of the divestment of the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ)-owned facility by correspondence dated August 27, 2018.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Gleaner, the business owners were informed that Cabinet had approved the divestment of 15 per cent of the FCJ’s assets, which included the property on which they operate.

After the FCJ rejected two of their offers, Samuels said owner of shoe distributor Sammys Shoe Store, Richard Samiel, who has been operating his company from the location for 44 years, made a bid to acquire the whole facility.

It is understood that Samiel is yet to hear from the FCJ to know whether his offer is being considered.

The Gleaner was told, however, that on March 28, 2019, business owners received correspondence from the FCJ saying that a tenant on the property had expressed interest in the property.

The letter did not state who the interested party was, but business owners claim that the bid was made by LASCO Jamaica Limited, who rented the last warehouse on the property a year ago.

Chairman of the company, Lascelles Chin, was unavailable for comment.

When The Gleaner visited the area yesterday, Samuels said the sale of the facility would present numerous challenges to his business, causing him to lose both customers and employees in the process.

“The whole thing of setting up new operations, which also include making office space and that kind of thing. Then there is the whole thing of how long this will take and how the gap between moving and setting up will affect the business because customers, perhaps, would have moved up by the time we finish setting up,” said Samuels, who has been operating from the location for 17 years.

Samuels told The Gleaner that relo cating would cost his company in the region of $15 million.

Alrick Robinson, owner of Integrated Chemical Services Limited, told The Gleaner that relocation could result in the closure of a line of business from which he is yet to get a return on investment.

“The big issue for us is the water operation using specialised equipment. Equipment that is set up, piped and organised may be designed around what the infrastructure here is. We would have a challenge actually transferring that operation to somewhere else. Some of the equipment, aspects of it, like the piping, valves and so on, we cannot just take them up and install them. We would have to get new ones,” said Robinson, whose business has been at the location for the past 23 years.

When The Gleaner contacted FCJ Chairman Lyttleton Shirley, he said that he does not speak on administrative issues and referred our news team to Managing Director Dr Donald Farquharson, whose phone went unanswered up to press time.