IT MATTERS TO MARIA: Business blues
MANUFACTURER?Winfield Waithe is accusing the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) of stifling his fibreglass business by failing to provide him with adequate space and technical assistance to expand.
Waithe, the owner of Lifetime Products Inc. at the BIDC’s Six Roads Industrial Park, has been given notice to vacate two units for non-payment of rent.
He said one unit was used to operate his business and the other was for storage.
The BIDC was set up by government to assist business enterprises through rental of space, technical assistance and development.
The 52-year-old businessman admitted that he had not paid his rent for the past two years but said it was because the BIDC had smothered his business by refusing to give him much-needed additional space, which would have allowed him to expand.
Lifetime Products Inc. has been involved in the manufacturing of fibreglass and composites since 1987 and is known for its door and window awnings and body kits for vehicles. While he has been able to produce other items such as gutter boxes, grease traps, laundry sinks and hurricane shutters, Waithe said he had to cease the production of these because the space he occupied at the St Philip location was inadequate.
In addition, he has also been forced to cut back on the production of awnings for the same reason.
Waithe said this had actually resulted in his business just managing to stay afloat.
He explained that the BIDC?came to his assistance in 2005 after his home and his then backyard business were destroyed in a fire, allowing him to use a unit at Grantley Adams Industrial Park.
But after spending $5 000 to get that unit outfitted the BIDC was forced to relocate him to Six Roads after only two weeks, because another tenant complained about the fibreglass he was using.
While he occupied building #5, Waithe said he was also allowed to use building #6 temporarily.
“In 2006 I informed the BIDC?that I was upgrading and purchasing new machinery and I was promised the space next door. While I?was in Miami purchasing the equipment I received a telephone call from BIDC informing me that I had to move out of #6 immediately because it was being rented to someone else for storage. I pleaded with them, telling them that I?needed the space but they told me that I had to vacate it and this resulted in my first loss. I had to close down my burglar bar operation and send home three people.
Feeling disadvantaged, Waithe said he successfully brought an injunction against the BIDC to prevent it from renting the space to someone else.
“After I brought the injunction I approached the BIDC?and told them that I wanted the space and I was willing to pay the additional rent and renovate it. They told me that in order to negotiate with them I would have to drop the injunction. I?did so and submitted detailed floor plans of the space that I would need to operate my business. They told me that they were interested in having a meeting with me in terms of seeing what was the focus I had going forward. I followed up; I sent emails and I made myself available for that meeting but each time they would put it off with the excuse that somebody was not available. So the next thing I got was a letter to vacate the premises.”
He accused the BIDC?of not understanding the fibreglass business.
“They keep telling me that I don’t need additional space that I?have a storage problem. They do not understand the fibreglass business. Fibreglass or composite manufacturing requires enough space to store chemicals, booths to paint and grind, efficient dust collecting and air extracting equipment to meet local and regulatory requirements.
“Right now I am operating in a small unit with only one window and one door. All of my equipment cannot be accommodated. I?should really have about six people working to produce the awnings but it is so cramped in there that we cannot have that amount working together.
In addition, the businessman said the untenable situation had caused him to lose out on exporting opportunities while he was still paying for a major piece of equipment which he bought to make hurricane shutters but was never able to use.
“I bought a storm shutter machine – the only one of its kind in the Caribbean in October 2007 but it remained in storage in a container for two years because I had no space to operate it. Eventually I had to place it in the unit I am occupying and it is in there taking up space and rusting and I?am still paying for it. I?had potential orders from St Lucia, St Vincent and Antigua but I lost out on those contracts because I was unable to get the space to operate the machinery,” said a visibly upset Waithe.
He also revealed that his awning business was also going down the drain.
“Sales are very slow. I?paid the BIDC?rent for five years in order to keep my doors opened but I had no turnover. I wasn’t able to utilise the equipment that I had in order to expand and take my business forward. Barbados has to understand that plastic is the way to go. Simple things like plastic forks, clothes baskets, hangars, I can manufacture and I was just begging the BIDC?for what the Government has put there to help people like me in getting technical assistance.”
He produced several pieces of correspondence which he sent to the BIDC?over the years requesting additional space as well as then Minister of Economic Affairs Dr David Estwick, outlining his concerns, but Waithe indicated that the BIDC failed to meet with him to address his concerns.
However, in one detailed response which he received from Nevile Rice, manager of the Industrial Services Division in 2006, Rice advised Waithe to submit a formal application to the BIDC for additional space.
The managing director said he followed this advice but never received the additional space.
“Our exports are down but the facts are that we are not getting the opportunities. The opportunities are being kept for a minute group of people and it seems to me the BIDC has changed its emphasis from manufacturing to warehousing space,”?he said.
When contacted, Michael Bynoe, the acting CEO of the BIDC, said he would issue a response to the allegations made by Waithe following the publication of this article.