'Tanny' moves to allay fears in the 'forgotten parish'
A cloud of despair now hangs over sections of St Thomas following confirmation that one of the few remaining major factories in the parish, Serge Island Diaries, is to be shuttered.
There are also fears that other major employers in the parish could also be closed shortly.
But Lyttleton 'Tanny' Shirley, chairman of Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ), says a planned multibillion-dollar development at the old Goodyear Factory in the parish will provide hundreds of jobs and more opportunities for the "no longer forgotten" parish.
"What I can assure the residents of St Thomas is that you are no longer forgotten. The project is real. It will commence in short order. What I am saying to the residents is that instead of sitting back and worrying you should prepare yourselves for job opportunities.
"We are saying to all the residents in St Thomas, prepare yourself to be employed because there is going to be a boom in employment. Young people who might not have passed two or three subjects, go back to school because you have a window of opportunity of two years in the construction period to prepare yourselves," Shirley told The Sunday Gleaner.
Last week, several residents of the eastern Jamaica parish took to social media to voice their concerns and displeasure about the prospects for its residents.
Accountant Chanick Miller, who is pursuing his master's degree, told The Sunday Gleaner that he is discontented, particularly after hearing the news that Seprod is to relocate its Serge Island Dairies operation from Seaforth, St Thomas, to St Catherine.
"This is an industry which has served St Thomas for many years ... providing a source of income for the people of the parish, especially those in the surrounding communities," said Miller.
"Even though the CEO of Seprod Group stated that the workers will be offered attractive redundancy packages, I can't help but wonder what will happen in the long run for these families. Another income source has been taken from the parish.
"Without a doubt we will see an unfavourable shift in the poverty line for St Thomas as a result of these individuals now being unemployed," added Miller.
He expressed fear that any reduction of employment opportunities in the parish could lead to a spike in crime.
"Successful individuals have migrated, whether overseas or to other parishes. St Thomas is well known as the forgotten parish and there has been no development here for years," declared Miller.
Fellow St Thomas resident Patrico Tyrell, who is completing his master's degree overseas, voiced his displeasure at the recent developments, or lack of development, in the parish.
"Seprod can't be blamed, it's the Government. The economic climate in the parish is just not favourable for investors. St Thomas needs roads. There is no way me as an investor a go tek my money and invest here, especially if my business involves transporting goods from one location to the next.
"Proper planning needs to be put in place. No sustainable form of development is taking place and all the factories are closing down. Nobody is looking forward to stay or to return to St Thomas because there's nothing for us to do there," added Tyrell
He warned that soon the other owners of companies in the parish will have to consider if they can continue to keep their doors open as sales are bad and St Thomas residents do not have the money to spend.
Responding to the concerns last Friday, Shirley urged residents of St Thomas to prepare themselves for the opportunities that will come when the old Goodyear Factory is converted into an urban centre.
"The project is ready to go the next Cabinet meeting for approval. It took a little longer than we anticipated because we had to go through the various protocols in terms of getting approval from the various government agencies. It was a necessary long process ... to ensure that at the end of it, it is a win-win for the investors and the country," said Shirley.
He added that the FCJ is fully aware of the concerns of residents, particularly with the closing of the Serge Island plant, and is pressing to see how early the construction can start.
The 365,000 square feet centre will house the St Thomas Municipal Corporation, as well as a town hall and a conference centre. There will also be an area known as Justice Square, where the Family Court and the Parish Court will be located.
Included in the urban centre will be financial institutions, a library, a medical centre, shopping facilities and purpose-built manufacturing and industrial space for small, medium and large enterprises.
Shirley said work on the planned highway leading into St Thomas is also scheduled to begin shortly.