LIFE AFTER BAUXITE: Agriculture, manufacturing, ICT & distribution could wake up sleepy town
For some, it seemed inevitable, others expected it to last forever, but whatever their expectation, residents of Mandeville all agree that the 2009 closure of the Kirkvine bauxite plant was a body blow to the town and neighbouring communities.
Six years later, persons have started to accept that despite an estimated 30 years of bauxite not mined, it is unlikely that the Kirkvine plant will ever reopen, and Mandeville has to look elsewhere for its economic salvation.
For businessman John Minott, while the fallout from bauxite has been tremendous, opportunities remain for Mandeville to achieve economic growth.
"It is going to be hard to replace bauxite because bauxite was so huge in the parish. Not only did it employ a large number of persons but the spin-off was tremendous," noted Minott at a recent Gleaner growth and development forum in Mandeville.
"It will be hard to find any industry to replace bauxite, and I think we are going to have to accept that. However, there are opportunities ... such as farming, which we can expand and we could look at adding more value to that sector by getting some more agro-industry going," added Minott.
He argued that the challenge was getting young people interested and to understand that there are opportunities in the central Jamaica town.
That's a view shared by Custos of Manchester Sally Porteous, and councillor for the Mandeville division in the Manchester Parish Council, Jones Oliphant.
"We talk about this life after bauxite as if there is something magical out there that is suddenly going to employ two or three thousand persons and pay them the salaries that bauxite did," said Porteous, as she urged stakeholders to take steps to attract investors to the town.
"People go to places that are well run, that have a low crime rate and offer certain basic facilities for them and their families, and I don't think we do enough to highlight what is good about Mandeville.
"We need to target investors, bring them here and let them meet with persons like the mayor, the member of parliament and us ... so let us come together on this and work out a plan where we target specific people out of China, New York City, Mexico, wherever they are from and bring them here," added Porteous.
For Oilphant, getting investors to the town is the one way to restore Mandeville to its pre-bauxite days when its economy was built on several pillars.
"In terms of economic development, what we need to do is to find a way that we can return to production and divestment. We can go towards greenhouses and we can target specific investors, like the custos said, so we can have industries that can generate a certain amount of economic growth," said Oliphant.
need for investors
Jamaica Labour Party caretaker for the town, Dr St Aubyn Bartlett, agreed on the need for investors, even as he pointed to distribution as one sector that could aid in that diversification and growth of the town.
"Mandeville is in the centre of the island ... a distribution hub that could prevent persons from going to Kingston to pull goods to Westmoreland, so that instead of going to Kingston they would have a hub here where goods from either end would come here.
"I see that as something that we need to look at and work at it because it could provide a lot of opportunities and employment and strengthen the town of Mandeville. It is not anything novel but it can work," added Bartlett.
Mandeville's promotion as a potential ICT hub has also gathered momentum since the downturn of the bauxite/alumina industry, with stakeholders endorsing plans to establish ICT-related businesses on more that 30 acres of land in the Williamsfield area.