Tue | Apr 24, 2018

Brand Jamaica just can't cut it

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Superstar sprinter Usain Bolt has pulled Jamaica into the spotlight, but Ian Boyne contends that publicity will not have a catapult effect on the island's economy. -File
For all his talent and cultural value, Sean Paul's lyrics and hair are not enough to spike economic growth.-FILE
Erik Nicolaisen, the VW ad actor whose contrived Jamaican accent lit up social media worldwide.

Ian Boyne, Contributor

We are a people obsessed with magic and miracles. That's not just manifest in our religions, from our African retentions to our American imports, but also in our economic and political thinking.

We are all excited about that VW ad and its magical appeal for Jamaica, to the world; and it's just about the only thing today that our politicians from the ruling People's National Party and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party can agree on.

We feel proud to be Jamaican because our accent and Patois 'gone abroad'; have been validated by white people and could be chosen out of the thousands of dialects in the world. Really awesome! We feel now that investors will be tripping over themselves to invest in Jamaica because our language is cute and so many millions of Super Bowl viewers know about this little but 'tallawah' country. Because we talk cute, we must be a great country to invest in and do business with.

JAMPRO must be orgasmic over this, and the speechwriters there must be busily churning out superlative-laden copy for executives to go on promotional tours. The Jamaica Tourist Board must be absolutely ecstatic. Doesn't it take magical thinking to assume that foreigners with big bucks will be flooding to Jamaica to do business just because we have a great culture?


And because we have given the world Bob Marley and reggae music, shouldn't we be overridden with investors, importers, financiers because everybody should know we are great to do business with, and have great economic prospects because we are a cultural superpower?

Added to that is the fact that we have the man who can run the fastest from Point A to Point B. And the world knows this, with even President Obama having to make reference to Bolt. I am sure he will be visiting soon! It must be just some bungling on some official's part why we have to be thinking about getting funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We should be flooded with cash with the leverage from Bolt, Marley and now this VW ad. Don't be ridiculous? Who is being ridiculous?

Listen, especially during Reggae Month, to all the talk about the economic potential of our culture - meaning its potential to pull business in manufacturing, agribusiness, telecommunications, etc. I am not talking about the undoubted potential of our cultural industries. That is unquestionable. Our cultural prowess is no joke, and the potential to exploit business opportunities from our culture is enormous. I am not talking about that. I am talking about this fluff about Brand Jamaica and how that is supposed to translate into great business overall.

Listen to me: If we continue killing our people at the rate we are; if we continue to remain low on Transparency International's corruption index; if we remain at the bottom of the competitiveness index of the Global Competitiveness Report; if we continue to slip on the World Bank's Doing Business Report; if we keep our debt-to-GDP ratio at 140 per cent and continue with our dysfunctional political and governance systems, no amount of prime-time viewing of VW Jamaican accent or BMW or Rolls Royce ad; no world-record-breaking performance by Bolt or winnings by Reggae Boyz or of reggae can save us economically. Stop believing in magic.

The highly experienced management consultant Henley Morgan, in an article in Wednesday's Observer, 'Why Brand Jamaica won't work for us', put it well: "The false assumption is that brand automatically translates into economic value ... . Without addressing the fundamental governance issues, the idea of Brand Jamaica will remain as illusory as fool's gold - promising much but delivering little in terms of wealth creation."

The London Olympics are over, with all the hype, and we have seen no appreciable rush of investments and no massive project announced. You see, we think people are fools and that people who watch sports or listen to music don't read news or business pages.


So because Bolt can run faster than any American, Chinese, Indian or Brazilian, people who know that don't also know about our crime rate, our decades-long economic malaise, our crippling debt, our human resource deficits and the tendency of too many of our men to be distracted by women and booze. Les Green is not the only foreigner (not just white man) who knows that.

We somehow seem to feel that hard-nosed business people, caught up in the euphoria of a Bolt race, fascinated with that VW ad, and mesmerised by Bob Marley's music will be calling up their bankers and strategic planners to say, "Let's rush to do business with Jamaica. It's a irie place, mon!" Continue to wait for Godot!

Bolt, the Marley family, Sean Paul, etc, are doing well for themselves, but for Jamaica to do well for its masses, we have to do more than fantasise about the pull of Brand Jamaica.

The Economist, in its January 19-25 edition, has a special report on outsourcing and offshoring, showing that countries are pulling back home a number of businesses they had outsourced and offshored. Some developing countries are still able to attract developed-country businesses, but these have to have more than just cheap labour. They must have quality labour, too. We have a problem with that. Even if we were able to attract far more investments, we would not be able to fill many of the vacancies.

The Economist says, "Companies' decisions on where to locate will increasingly be driven by where they can find skilled workers they need." Not which countries have the fastest athletes, most skilful ballers, or most pulsating rhythms. We have enough minstrels, but not enough masters of science and technology.

Says the Economist magazine, "As the gap in worldwide wage rates narrows further, it will become more obvious that other factors (other than low wages) such as skills, labour law, clusters of industries, infrastructure, tax and regulation are playing an ever more important role when companies decide where to put their production."

They are not looking to which country has cute accents, nimble dancers, great singers and lightning-speed athletes. They enjoy all of those, but they don't mix that with their hard-earned, safely guarded cash. They don't see their business as entertainment or sport - except they are in that business. But using Brand Jamaica's cultural prowess to incite people to come here has limited value.

As we have been proving. They are not knocking down our doors, and that is not because they are not aware of Jamaica. Hello. The Brand Jamaica enthusiasts tell us how much we are known because of our musicians and athletes, and they are absolutely right. Bolt does more for us than these or any other agency. We have the name recognition as a country; but, unfortunately, they know some other things about us, too.

Butch Stewart, last week in his paper, was talking about our need to export. "If we get the policies right and offer Jamaicans the right environment and the right incentives, our investors will export to." He is on to something. Butch went on to point to "South Florida, where businesses are being lured with serious concessions to move their offices and investments to the US borough. Here in Jamaica, waivers had become a dirty word while the rest of the world understands the wisdom of incentivising investments."


The reason why waivers and incentives have become bad words, Butch, is because of the IMF, not Peter Phillips. He is being pressured by the IMF. Butch, the supercapitalist, is at one with Marxist Lloyd D'Aguilar in disagreeing with IMF strategy (though not on this point). But Butch is right. If the US and some other states had an IMF agreement, they could not do some of the things they are doing.

State governments in the US are offering millions in special incentives and waivers to attract businesses from other states. In 2008, the Hemlock semiconductor group was offered US$114 million in development and training grants, plus US$74 million in local subsidies and a 50 per cent property abatement worth approximately US$40 million.

In 2008, also VW (Yes, that same one!) announced plans to spend up to US$1 billion on assembly operations in Tennessee, having abandoned that state in 1988 after the state offered more than US$400 million in incentives and subsidies. For New Line Cinema to film the Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand, they had to be granted huge tax breaks - estimated to be up to US$400 million.

In 2010, Warner Brothers and New Line threatened to pull out of New Zealand until the government promised more subsidies and even legislation that undermined union-negotiated contracts. In the US film industry in 2008, 40 states spent up to US$1.4 billion on tax credits, write-offs and grants. Says the latest issue of the scholarly journal, International Socialism, "It is instructive that in the United States, where the rhetoric of the free market and a restricted role for the state is so strong, the reality could not be more different."

The journal then quotes one source as saying: "The cheap manufacturing site for European companies is not in Asia or Eastern Europe but the US ... the reason is less the value of the dollar ... but rather the large number of incentives that some US states are offering companies to set up factories in their region.

The chairman of a large Swiss group said, "States are more willing to pay for new roads, retrain workers and offer huge tax breaks which are a competitive package that few parts of the world can match when you look at how productive US workers are ... ". No wonder The Economist details how many companies are going back to the US because they are offering what the IMF is going to deny this sovereign country in any new IMF deal.

No matter how fast we run, we can't win this handicapped economic race.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.