Katalyxt, a division of Mint Management & Financial Services Limited that supports the growth and development of small and medium enterprises in Jamaica, will hold its 2014 Business Development Conference at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston on May 14 – 15. The broad theme is “Business Growth Through Increased Innovation and Efficiency,” and there is a strong focus on skills building and training. Among the highlights are the announcement of the Youth Innovators’ Competition Awards – their third incarnation. U.S. and Jamaican speakers, including State Minister Julian Robinson, will talk about two key ingredients in the growth recipe – ICT and energy. For more details on the conference, go to: http://www.katalyxt.info/conference-2014.html
At a breakfast launch last week moderated by broadcaster Cliff Hughes (himself a media entrepreneur and businessman of no mean order) discussion swirled around the question: “Where would you invest your next J$50 million: technological modernization of agriculture, growth of a manufacturing enterprise, or delivery of services?” Financial analyst Ralston Hyman came down firmly with manufacturing, stressing that diversification is key. “The numbers tell us…” said Mr. Hyman (who often dazzles us with his command of numbers) “…our product base is too narrow.” Jamaica is under-producing, under-supplying its markets; the only thing it is doing too much of is consuming.
Winsome Minott is CEO of Mint Management & Finance Services Ltd, and she supports more training. “We are always saying we must get ready…” she said. She would not invest in agriculture, but believes the service industries are the potential engine of growth in Jamaica. Ms. Minott believes Jamaica is “behind the curve” in the growth of its cultural industries. “The arts and artists have value,” she insisted: “They are game changers.”
Katalyxt organized a Writers’ Forum just two years ago, when I had the particular thrill of hearing Nobel Prize-winning poet Dennis Walcott reading from “White Egrets,” and sitting in on a poetry workshop led by our new Poet Laureate Professor Mervyn Morris. (More please, Katalyxt!) You can read my article about this wonderful event here: http://https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/the-joy-and-the-business-of-writing/
John Mahfood heads a manufacturing company called Jamaica Teas. However, he seemed somewhat disillusioned with manufacturing, citing the sliding Jamaican Dollar – which he believes will not encourage exports – and shrinking consumer confidence. He would invest his J$50 million in real estate; “There is huge demand for affordable housing,” noted Mr. Mahfood. Undeniably so. But real estate is burdened with high taxes, so Mr. Mahfood is looking at a low-cost housing development in St. Thomas.
Young writer and Gleaner columnist Keiran King pointed to the importance of The Idea. The Big Idea, perhaps. Let’s invest in our minds, was his suggestion. He pointed to the importance of the individual, the fire of creativity, the illumination of that proverbial light bulb. The co-founder of Whatsapp, the hugely successful social media platform purchased recently by Facebook, Jan Koum, was “not a regular guy,” he noted, but a poor immigrant born in a small village in Ukraine. The “idea incubators” of Silicon Valley are also examples of how putting our minds to work can reap rewards. So let us be leaders, not followers.
So far as I could see, no one went whole-heartedly for agriculture, although Ralston Hyman believes the sector needs a huge infusion of technology and investment.
One audience member made a really practical suggestion: draw up a list of key jobs – those that are really essential for growth – and start training people for each job category. I am also very supportive of Ms. Minott’s focus on youth and training; it’s an investment in the country’s future, and without an appropriately trained population we are not going to get very far. It ties in with Jamaica’s education philosophy: let’s start teaching children critical thinking, and with greater focus on science and technology, I would say.
CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Dennis Chung was very clear about where he would invest his J$50 million. He was recently considering three start-ups for investment, and decided on a small manufacturing business. He said there is “too much risk” in agriculture – climate change and theft are two real negatives – and noted Government policy does not support the service industries. Moreover, it is much harder to export a service than a manufactured product. He would support manufacturing, with an emphasis on using local materials.
“What are we going to do differently?” asked a special guest at the launch, Dr. Maureen Denton, who is the Jamaican CEO of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Development Corporation Limited. That is the question we must all address. As Mr. King suggested, we might sit on the bank and watch the river of human endeavor and interaction flow by, while we contemplate this thought.
By the way, this year’s Youth Innovators’ Competition includes two new categories (The Big Idea Award and the Sustainability Award). Last year’s winners were Bridgeport High School, who produced a mosquito repellent; St. George’s College came second and Wolmer’s Boys’ High School tied with Bridgeport for third place with their products. 3rd to 6th formers from twelve schools are in the running in 2014. Who will it be? We will know on May 14…
Kudos to Katalyxt and the panel members for a tightly organized and timed event. This was refreshing!