Butch’s positive vibe
AS ONE?OF?THE?MOST highly honoured business leaders in the English-speaking Caribbean, Gordon “Butch” Stewart should know what he is talking about when it comes to investment, economic growth and stability within the CARICOM region.
And that’s true whether the focus is on Barbados, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago, or their neighbours.
So when the holder of at least 50 awards struck some upbeat notes in New York about the region’s economic future now that the various countries are beginning to emerge from the worst economic recession in the last 100 years, few if any who heard him dismissed his assessment.
“I think the projections for investment at this time are good, good under the economic period we are going through,” was the way the chairman of JAMPRO who also heads the boards of the Sandals and Beaches Resorts and the Jamaica Observer newspaper put it at a Carib News editorial board meeting in Manhattan a few days ago.
“I think they will get better two years from now and I think [foreign direct investment] will make a big difference.”
In essence the countries are well placed to attract new and sizeable investments from abroad as the worldwide financial environment becomes more amenable to taking more business risks.
With several unfinished projects in Barbados, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, St Lucia and their neighbours ready to be relaunched, better days may be around the corner, he hinted. And the areas of business activity run the gamut from tourism and hotels, call centres and the movie industry to agriculture, music, you name it, he says.
“There are so many areas. In Jamaica, the Chinese have just bought a number of the sugar factories. In The Bahamas, the Bahamas (tourism) project is massive – $2 billion of development,” he added.
“Without getting into specifics, I think the Caribbean augurs well. Not only that – there are many unstable parts of the world and when you look at the Caribbean, the region would really have to come in as, if not the most stable part of the world, it’s right up there.
“If you go on a list of one to five, I think from a point of view of stability the Caribbean would come in within the five most stable – not necessarily the wealthiest, but the most stable. I don’t think any of us go to bed at night wondering if there is going to be a coup tomorrow. It’s not on the cards.
“From the point of view of investment, that stability is the single biggest thing we have to offer,” he went on.
“We have our proximity to the biggest market. The prospects are very good. The inquiries [about investment] are good.”
Stewart, the recipient of Jamaica’s highest national honours, an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies and a host of other national, regional and international awards for his success as a corporate leader in the travel and hospitality sectors and for his humanitarian activities, gave the Caribbean top marks for its own investment in education and health, prerequisites for a sound future.
“Everywhere, with few exceptions, maybe Brazil and one or two other South American countries have had major pressure after the meltdown,” he said.
“I think all things considered, most of the Caribbean countries have stood up very well with the economic problems they have had.
“I think socially, too, we have improved, improved a lot. Music drives our feelings. The music changes. It’s different and it gets better. The youths are coming up. I think the Caribbean has no limit on its future.”
But he was quick to recommend some introspection: “Look in at ourselves to determine what we can do. I think we can do a bit more for ourselves than we are doing,” Stewart suggested.
As a first step, Stewart, a former chairman of Air Jamaica during many of its glory days as a regional carrier, urged the countries and their private sector to drop any risk aversion.
“We can take a few more chances than we are taking. I don’t think anything is ever built or developed without taking some chances,” he declared. “We should do more of that.” That would open up avenues for the youth to prosper, Stewart insisted.
“There is a tremendous amount of young people coming up well educated,” he said. “Extremely well educated, and I think it provides nothing but good for our future.
“A lot of the islands that I visit, I envy the education levels when I compare to Jamaica, my own home. I envy how well they have been able to maintain their education system and how effective it has been for their communities and their nationals.
“Jamaica needs help in that regard and we need help on the medical side of things.”
Hence, his call on Jamaicans in the United States, for instance, to aid the health care system back home by providing equipment, not necessarily new but working efficiently.
In addition, he suggested that the Diaspora work to provide the police in Jamaica with vehicles as well.