St Ann can do better – Earl Jarrett
An outdated economic model is responsible for St Ann being one of the poorest parishes in Jamaica, says Earl Jarrett, chief executive officer of The Jamaica National Group (JN Group).
"The parish has a resource-based economy which has moved little beyond the basic exploitation of its agricultural land, its bauxite and its beauty," Jarrett stated. Therefore, the business sector needs to work with political representatives and the people of St Ann, to create a more prosperous future for its population.
"The stories I have read about St Ann over the past decade remain the same," Jarrett told the meeting of the St Ann Chamber of Commerce (St Ann Chamber). "It remains stories about poor market conditions, tourist harassment and roads that need to be improved. It is a single story."
"This is despite the fact that St Ann has a history of outstanding private-sector leadership, particularly those who pioneered the development of the tourism sector, on top of traditional agriculture," he said. "And, the bauxite/alumina sector developed subsequently, giving the economy its three broad divisions, currently."
The economic development has been limited in scope, resulting in negative consequences for the parish and its people, he stated.
"Our parish has continued to plough ahead in agriculture, mining and tourism, even to this day," said Jarrett, who pointed out that his own ancestors had originated from the Watt Town agricultural community in the parish.
"The challenges that we came and saw are part of the old economy," he told the February 18 meeting at the Hibiscus Lodge/Almond Tree Restaurant in Ocho Rios. "Those economic drivers are the same ones our parents and grandparents came and saw. Therefore, this parish needs to look beyond those old industries.
"The data say that over 30 per cent of the people in this parish live in poverty, largely as a result of declines in agriculture," he pointed out. This is confirmed by the fact that 73.2 per cent of the population of 180,000 live in rural parts of the parish, where agriculture remains a major source of employment.
"If we cannot accommodate more of this rural population in urban St Ann, then they will move on to Kingston and to Brooklyn, NY, because they will try to find a way to improve their lives," Jarrett stated. "You need a new business model to make this parish perform better.
"You should convene a meeting with the parliamentary representatives of your parish in one room," Jarrett suggested to the St Ann Chamber. "And, you need a parish agenda that the four members of parliament can find common cause to support."
He offered the 45 members attending the joint parish chambers of commerce meeting his participation in the first session if they wanted him to. Along with members from the parish chamber, executive members from the Portland, St Mary, Trelawny, Montego Bay, Hanover and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce attended the meeting.
The St Ann Chamber members welcomed the suggestions from Jarrett with applause, pointing out that there were substantial resources within the parish that could be harnessed more efficiently, and that more effort needs to be focused on marketing goods and services to the domestic market.
Opportunities in e-commerce and distribution were also discussed, with St Ann Chamber President Pixley Irons establishing a working committee to complete the parish agenda for presentation to the political representatives.
Norma Walters, custos of St Ann, added that "this is not about Ocho Rios, it is about St Ann. We need to see the parish in the global context and operate as a united group".
Jeanne Dixon, a former director of the chamber, pointed out that "for many years, the chamber has had plans. All we need is to upgrade those plans".
Supporting Jarrett's call for an agreed parish agenda, Dixon stated that many large businesses in St Ann are not controlled at the local or even the national level. For the locally controlled businesses, she declared, "We now need a voice."