Robyn Miller, Gleaner Writer
Ten years after Jamaica tasted independence the island became an attractive prospect for multinationals with a booming productive sector in tow.
One of the multinationals to set up business in 1972 was the powerful British Oxygen Limited. With metal and gas production being its core business, Jamaica with a rapidly growing industrial base became a subsidiary, exporting to its distributor markets throughout the Caribbean.
But it wasn't long before the Brits became disenchanted with their declining fortunes and the company was sold to a group of Jamaicans.
After changing hands twice - in 1975 from its British owners and in 1977, George Swire of Delta Supply Company set out to turn the company's fortunes around. Forty years and two name changes later - Elarc Welding Products Limited (Elarc being short for electric arc), continues to be a market leader.
"We are now exporting about 45 per cent of our production volumes ... that's an increase in export sales" from the 25 per cent the company recorded in 2008, LeRoy A. Morris, general manager of Elarc, told The Gleaner from his Twickenham Park offices on a hot Wednesday morning in June.
Priding itself on quality service, the company, which employs 40 persons, celebrates 40 years as the major supplier of welding electrodes and consumables to the local and international markets.
"What we have found is that our strength lies in our service ... so many of our welders have grown up on Elarc Welding products," a proud Morris said of Elarc's longevity.
Loss of market share
But success did not come easily as it involved transitioning from the archaic codified system handed down by the British and, later, the loss of major market share in 2008, after the contraction of the bauxite sector.
In a 1990 issue of the World Development Journal, the company's success was highlighted through a study by Professor Norman Girvan of the University of the West Indies and Gillian A. Marcelle of British Telecom, London, titled: Overcoming Technological Dependency: The case of Electric Arc (Jamaica) Ltd, A Small Firm In A Small Developing Country.
Yet amidst the company's successes are a range of concerns such as an unfriendly business climate and government policy, high energy costs, crime and violence and trade imbalances.
"Successive administrations have been weak in facilitating major civil works," Morris said, citing instances where the company was sidelined after concessions were granted to foreign investors on shipments of imported metal.
Morris noted that Caricom has not served the region well either, pointing to the country's trade imbalance with Trinidad. "We export to all the islands but Trinidad," he said. Trinidad represents the largest welding market in the region, but it's the market in which we have had the lowest penetration," he said.
Morris said, however, that the survival of the manufacturing sector over the next 50 years will require a paradigm shift in which "ordinary Jamaicans understand the power of buying Jamaican".