Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Western Bureau:Buoyed by being voted the Best Community in Jamaica for 2012, the residents of Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth are gearing up to make the town one of Jamaica's premier economic centres.
"To be voted the Best Community in Jamaica is a big endorsement for us, and it provides an opportunity for greater investment in our town," said hotelier Jason Henzell. "It is also an opportunity to establish Treasure Beach as a model town as we continue towards becoming completely self-sustainable."
According to Henzell, who is one of the driving forces behind the staging of the annual Jake's Triathlon and the internationally acclaimed Calabash Literary Festival, he also wants to establish Treasure Beach as the sports tourism capital of the Caribbean.
With a population of just 2,500 persons, Treasure Beach was once a sleepy fishing village. However, on account of recent developments and the ambitious plans on the drawing board, the future looks encouraging.
"We need to diversify, maybe through nature-based excursions and sport festivals," said Henzell. "This is possible if every hotel operator in Treasure Beach seeks to stage one or two yearly events as the community would become the envy of the region."
The National Best Community Competition and Programme was launched in 2006 to encourage the development of sustainable communities through a variety of activities which promote local governance, self-help and self-reliance.
At present, Treasure Beach has its own ambulance service, the Lionel Densham Aerodrome, and a volunteer-based charitable organisation called Breds (a term used in the local vernacular short for 'bredren' or friend), which has been funding a variety of programmes designed to meet the direct needs of the south-coast community.
"Breds has been successful because we have sought to improve the lives of the people in Treasure Beach," said Henzell, who founded the organisation. "The most that a non-profit organisation can do is to have integrity, determination and courage.
"Every project you do must be done to attract the next person. So if you do what you say you are going to do with the funding provided to you and give proper account of your stewardship, then it's easy to approach the likes of the Digicel Foundation, UNICEF and other support groups," said Henzell.
Despite the depletion in the area's fish stock, which has negatively impacted the fishing sector, there is still a high rate of employment in the area, thanks to the boat tours to Pelican Bar, Fort Charles and the fishing sanctuary along the coast.
According to Henzell, discussions are now taking place to establish cottage industries for the production of goat cheese and melon ginger juice to utilise the huge goat population and high volume of watermelons grown in the area.
"These are the type of opportunities that the community will be grasping over the next three years because people want to buy local," said Henzell, who is also chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Development Committee. "If it's presented in a proper way, these, among other industries, can make a difference.
"The community has a lot of options available to it - more than other communities - and it's important that we don't take that for granted," added Henzell.