Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
More than 30 investors from the United Kingdom and North America are among the 500 persons already registered for the 5th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference, which kicks off in Montego Bay this evening.
The investors are looking at a range of sectors, including information and communication and technology (ICT); business processing outsourcing (BPO), the creative industries, manufacturing, and agro-processing, among others.
The news comes as the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade work assiduously to rid the Diaspora Conference of its talk-shop image.
According to JAMPRO's chairman, Milton Samuda, the investment agency is facilitating more than 40 local businesses at the conference.
These businesses will not only showcase potential projects, but will be exposed to matchmaking with investors who have confirmed attendance.
"This practical, business approach which we are taking is also exemplified in our exposing our delegates to the Montego Bay business community via scheduled bus tours to sites such as the world-class Vista Print facility, Montego Bay Freezone, Barnett Tech Park/Estate, and the WesPow Park Sport Training and Camp Facility in Irwin, St James," said Samuda.
The conference, which is estimated to attract a near 150 per cent increase in participants over 2011, will be officially opened by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa.
The actual conference and marketplace, which Samuda says is geared towards propelling economic growth, "which the country so desperately needs", is set for the Montego Bay Convention Centre from Monday to Wednesday.
According to Samuda, the conference will be characterised by business and investment meetings and opportunities, business-matching exercises, business-to-business meetings and strategic investments.
He argued that the diaspora must not be seen only as a source of remittances, but also as an underutilised source of job creation, investment, wealth creation, and capital.
Eager to highlight examples of the successes garnered by diaspora investment projects, the JAMPRO chairman said the agency will also showcase some of its outstanding missions.
"What we want to do is really engage the diaspora. There is no reason why we ought not to treat them exactly as we do foreign investors. Indeed, as I said, many of them are investing from 'foreign'," argued Samuda.
He was supported by state minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Arnaldo Brown, who echoed that this conference will not be a talk shop.
"A Diaspora Council tasked with implementing actionable recommendations from the conference and monitoring and evaluating these initiatives will be one concrete outcome of the conference," said Brown.
It is also expected that elements of the draft diaspora policy will be examined at the conference.
According to Brown, another expected outcome is the expressions of interests from diaspora investors in Jamaica's major development projects, such as the global logistics hub; agroparks; the redevelopment of downtown Kingston, and ICT parks.
Presentations and discussions centred on the Diaspora Bond, the Jamaica Stock Exchange Junior Market, Venture Capital and partnerships for micro, small and medium-size enterprises are also expected to drive home the trade and investment focus of this year's conference.
GREAT WAY TO REACH OUT
In the meantime, Mark Thomas, chairman of JAMPRO's marketing committee, said the target is "people of Jamaican descent living inside global cities".
The plan to ensure that the conference is not a talk shop has been welcomed by members of the diaspora, including 26-year-old Kristle Wright, the managing director of the Jamaican Heritage Society in New York.
Wright told The Sunday Gleaner that this was a great way to reach out to her country.
A first-timer to the event, Wright, who is involved in technology, argued, "We don't know how to get involved, don't know what we need to do to move forward, or how to help Jamaica to be one of the best countries in the world."
She added that in the United States, people speak mainly about reggae music and Bob Marley, "yet there is so much more to Jamaica".
According to Wright, the conference will give her a chance to make a contribution to the society.
The biennial event, themed 'A Nation on a Mission: Jamaica-Diaspora Partnership for Development', has attracted more than 50 media personnel, including about 20 from overseas media.