JMA - a major player in the drive for growth
Jamaica boasts a fairly developed and diverse manufacturing industry, which produces high-quality products.
Manufacturing has contributed significantly to the Jamaican economy. Although faced with challenges brought about by changes in the environment in which it operates, the sector maintains its significance as one of the major engines of economic growth, job creation, and prosperity.
According to Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA), the organisation has moved from strength to strength as one of Jamaica's premier lobby groups.
"We have been embarking on different campaigns that also include the services offered by smaller companies in the organisation. We have explored new markets and finance packages to meet the growing needs of our over 400 members," said Seaga.
The manufacturing industry in Jamaica emerged by necessity as a result of the shortage of basic goods which were supplied by imports after World War II. In its early stages of development, the local manufacturing industry was full of opportunities.
With support from Government, a budding local market of over one million people, and an abundance of job opportunities were created.
The sector quickly diversified from sugar and rum into producing a wide range of manufactured products such as garments, processed foods, machinery, and electrical equipment, which resulted in Jamaica experiencing impressive real growth.
With a strong and growing manufacturing sector, the JMA was formed in 1947 to support local manufacturers and encourage locals to buy Jamaican. The sector did not stand alone, as it began interconnecting with other sectors, namely agriculture, tourism, retail and distribution.
In 1952, Robert Charles 'Bob' Lightbourne, the late minister of industry and trade, along with the JMA, contributed significantly to giving manufacturing its huge start by establishing institutions such as the Bureau of Standards and the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation.
Manufacturing was seen as an avenue to provide jobs for the growing population. This process was popularly described as industrialisation and seen as the way forward for growth and development.
This development was further supported by the Government through numerous industrial policies. Between 1947 and 1968, three development plans were adopted. In 1947, Jamaica passed the Textile Industry Encouragement Act, which provided incentives to attract foreign and local investment.
Other legislation, such as the Pioneer Industries Encouragement Law, the Industrial Incentives Law, and the Export Industry Encouragement Law, which were passed in 1956, also helped to stimulate the sector.
Some of the incentives that boosted activities included income-tax exemptions, duty-free imports for raw materials and machinery, generous depreciation allowances, and tax-free dividends.
Imega Breese McNab, executive director of the JMA, said the organisation has been transitioning to meet the needs of its members.
"We have been fairly successful in addressing many issues that are dealt with behind the scenes. These situations do not reach the public. We have also dealt with other matters that concern the country that are of topical importance in manufacturing," McNab said.
Manufacturing remains the largest contributor to GDP of all goods-producing sectors. Annual employment in the sector from 2008 to date has averaged over 76,000 persons.
In the 2011-2012 financial year, manufacturing contributed 8.6 per cent to GDP, employed 6.8 per cent of the labour force (or 74,800 persons), contributed J$30.5 billion in taxes to the Government, and earned US$739.2 million in foreign exchange.
"We believe there is strength in numbers. Overall there are over 1,200 manufacturers in Jamaica and with added membership we can continue to work together to ensure the best practices and issues concerning our members are adequately addressed," Seaga said.
Despite experiencing significant challenges, manufacturers have continued to be resilient, making quality, innovative and competitively priced products for the local and international markets.
The association continues to play a leading role in the development of Jamaica's manufacturing sector, which proves that opportunities exist that can and are being pursued by those who have the heart and dedication for hard work.