The great Vernamfield debate
The development of the Vernamfield facility and the possible economic impact it could have on the country is an ongoing debate that has transcended successive government administrations. Built in the 1940s, the one-time US Navy air base occupies approximately 2,200 acres of land, with three concrete runways, the largest of which measures 2,000 metres.
Member of Parliament for Central Clarendon Mike Henry has been vocal about his plans to develop the facility over the years, in keeping with Vision 2030.
"If I had remained in government, development would have been achieved, but because we lost government, all the momentum has been lost," said Henry, a former minister of transport and works.
Henry had proposed what he called 'The Vernamfield Development Project', which included a multimodal logistics hub.
"It will be an integrated hub consisting of road, rail, sea and air and how they connect. That was the plan that I laid down as minister for the Government to achieve. Vernamfield was a key part of the plans I had because without an air connection, there cannot be a hub."
The former transport minister also explained that funding had been identified and young people had already begun training in Singapore in aviation and all was already in place for groundbreaking work to begin.
According to Henry, his research showed that the commencement of the project would have absorbed between 10 and 20 per cent of the country's unemployed. This would have had a significant impact on the parish and, by extension, Jamaica and the region.
"Employment within the parish of such magnitude would bring a large amount of economic activity to May Pen as the parish capital. It would mean more people will have cash to spend at their disposal. Therefore, businesses will thrive and existing ones will be established in an effort to adequately measure up to the increased demand for goods and services."
However, the National Drag Racing Circuit (NDRC) has plans that are completely different from that of the former transport minister's. Executive member of the NDRC, Stephen Gunter said a proposal to build the Vernamfield Motorsports Park and Entertainment Complex was in early planning stages.
"Motorsport is the third most popular spectator sport behind the Olympics and the World Cup. It is also a high-end, high-value industry from which automobile manufacturers and tier one suppliers from the USA, Europe and Japan draw their technical and engineering expertise. The development of motorsports is expected to lead to the birth and growth of direct and indirect motorsports businesses in sectors like services, engineering, logistics, training and education."
Gunter said although it was only focused on motorsports, the NDRC would adopt an integrated planning approach to develop a self-sustaining industry ecosystem that would complement all sports projects in Jamaica.
He further explained that the Vernamfield Motorsports Park would have direct economic impact on the capital through significant retail commerce at the facility on race days, increased spend with service suppliers for race events, hotel and guest house rental during race weekends, and an increase in tourist activity associated with invitational race events at facility, among other benefits.