Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Investment boom in Jamaica, business confidence high… but!

That’s because 2005 has been a record year in Jamaica’s tourism sector, and
investors from the United States, Spain, and China have flocked to the
island with a series of plans for large-scale developments in major tourist
regions.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, about to demit office in March, seized the
moment to showcase accomplishments during his tenure at a recent business
investment showcase. The forum was held February at the Jamaica Pegasus
Hotel in Kingston.

It was a dazzling display of the island’s success in attracting investors to
various sectors: infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and
knowledge-based industries. After a two-hour presentation, one skeptical
attendee couldn’t help but be optimistic about the country’s investment
climate.

“Jamaica has some challenges ahead with the debt to [gross domestic product]
ratio, but after hearing these positive outlooks from other investors, you
can’t help but have an optimistic outlook,” says Tony Brown, senior manager
for New York-based investment firm, Bear Stearns.

Brown was among the 300 foreign and local investors at the forum, aimed at
boosting investor confidence.

Business confidence in Jamaica is high. Amid a climate of high debt and high
crime rate, entrepreneurs are seeing significant returns on their
investments.

 

Yes, my friend. People are making money, not just in Jamaica but also across
the Caribbean rim. The conditions are ripe for investments. The region is a
strategic location linking North America, Latin America and Europe.

 

Jamaica itself was ranked number one in the Caribbean for near-shore
operations serving the U.S. The World Investment Report also ranked the
country 17th as a destination for foreign direct investment and 12th in
terms of technology transfer.

 

The World Bank report cited the island’s US$3.5 billion portfolio of
projects covering several sectors and its 10th place rating as progress,
according to Patterson.

 

He said these gains were not accidental, but were “a result of the clear,
coherent and consistent policy framework laid out in the 1996 National
Industrial Policy.”

 

Vice President of Jamaica Broilers, Chris Levy, puts it differently.
“Jamaica is on the cusp of an investment curve,” Levy says, “Those who get
in on the front end will capitalize the most.” In other words, if you’re not
in the game, you can’t win.

 

The horse is out the gate. By the time you read this, you’ll be at least
four furlongs behind those who have capitalized on the front end.

 

With February’s forum, Patterson has set the tone for openness and
transparency in doing business with Jamaica to all stakeholders, including
the Caribbean Diaspora. So how can the Diaspora turn its patriotic fervor
into meaningful economic growth for their homeland and themselves?

 

If one needs inspiration, I say look to others who had faith, money and took
the risk. They are now reaping bountiful rewards.

 

Here are a few large-scaled projects on the field: The United States-based
development company, Resort Property, has plans for Palmyra Resort and Spa.
This will sit on 16 acres of the 5,000-acre Cinnamon Hill property, owned by
the Rollins family.

Cinnamon Hill is a vast area of rolling hills overlooking the clear blue
Caribbean Seas and is also home to the Ritz Carlton and the Half Moon
hotels.

 

The US-based Tavistock Group is in negotiations with Harmonisation Limited,
the government agency selecting developers for the Harmony Cove Resort in
Trelwany. Tavistock is a privately held investment company founded 30 years
ago by billionaire, Joe Lewis. It also has developments in the Bahamas.

 

The financial sector has also benefited from this investment boom. New
projects usher in the need for financing.

That’s where Ryland Campbell, Chairman and CEO of Capital & Credit Financial
Group Limited, comes in. The company has benefited by increased project
financing in the tourism industry.

 

Despite growth, people still ask: What about the crime? Forum organizers had
answers. Better yet, other businessmen in attendance had answers.

Michael Campbell, owner of Jamaica’s largest rental car agency, Island Car
Rentals, tells this story: After hearing about a shooting, his son who lives
in the states called to ask if he was okay. “People think that if a bullet
is fired on one side of the island, it flies to the other side of the
island,” he says.

“They don’t know Jamaica is the largest English speaking country in the
Caribbean.” He goes on to tell the story of hotel magnate Butch Stewart who
had just given a presentation to a group. After Stewart’s presentation,
someone responded: “This is great. But is it safe? Stewart replied: “I live
here, don’t I?”

 

Stewart might feel safe. But let’s be real. Others don’t. The government has
recognized that and is seemingly working to help stem the fear; press
releases announce crime is inching down, and that most crimes are reprisal
killings, not random killings.

Killing is killing, though. And the government has conceded that much.

 

“We accept there are problems,” says Jamaica’s Minister of Development Paul
Robertson. “But we take pride in highlighting the progress that has been
made.”

Indeed, progress has been made. And while some have focused on the crime
rate, others have capitalized on an investment boom.

Ann-Marie Adams is an award- winning journalist who lives in Connecticut. She is writing a book on school segregation and its impact on Caribbean immigrants.

About the author

Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D