Is the Jamaica Trade & Invest (JTI) of any value to the local ICT entrepreneur?

The following article was written out of a need to express my experiences and views based on a sequence of events as it relates to the JTI and the PSDP.

My first experience

My only experience with PSDP was not a pleasant one.

It was not pleasant based on my experience and also hearing from others who engaged the PSDP located on the JTI building.

What I found most disturbing was the lack of protection of entrepreneurs’ intellectual capital.

Words such as “you have to trust us” and, “without that trust we cannot move forward”.

I found the absence of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in the advanced stages of possible investment opportunities in the Jamaican market to be utter nonsense and an insult to my intelligence.

If trust is such an issue, then why object to the signing of an NDA that would, in some shape or form, provide some comfort or peace of mind in sharing confidential information about a business?

The lack of respect of the resources placed in reaching the stage of market entrance by such an individual only reinforced the horror stories I had heard before.

The JTI experience

It was June 17, 2008 and I was present at the Jamaica Diaspora Conference 2008.

A Mr. Robert Gregory took the stage and from what I gathered from the schedule, he, at the time, was the President of the JTI.

After his greetings to the audience, what struck my attention were his words: “My message to you is that: Today’s Jamaica Means Business!”

“And, there is no time like the present for the Jamaican Diaspora to stake a claim in the favorable environment for business in Jamaica today!”

He had my attention, and I waited anxiously to hear what exactly this man was going to say during the rest of his presentation.

Mr. Gregory followed with more PowerPoint slides, pointing out various avenues to increase economic growth via investment promotions and trade promotions.

Slide 3 out of his 12-slide presentation, which can be viewed in its entirety online at the Jamaican Diaspora Social Network, appeared to be the crown jewel of his presentation. The topic heading stated “Investment Target Areas”.

Areas such as Tourism, ICT, Agribusiness, Creative Industries, Mining, Manufacturing and Energy comprised the list.

Nothing unusual with his list, as those are the areas in which Jamaica currently has opportunities for investment.

Being biased towards the ICT sector, I awaited anxiously to see if he had anything that would perk the interest of overseas investors in coming to Jamaica as it pertains to the ICT sector.

There was none of course. Nothing wrong with that. However, it was the over-emphasizing on the other sectors which, as far as I know, respectively earn less revenue than the amount of remittance Jamaica obtains from the Diaspora.

Knowing this, and the fact that the remaining 5 out of the 7 had virtually no real room for a short- or long-term U.S multibillion dollar per year revenue stream for Jamaica (with the possible exception of the Tourism sector), I could hardly keep still in my chair as I could not believe what I was hearing.

Mining

As far as I know Bauxite is a finite resource in Jamaica.

And I have yet to see a massive demand for Limestone and Clinker, the other two materials mentioned under the Mining sector.

Agribusiness

Agribusiness faces stiff competition from Latin America. This, along with the removal of preferential treatment from the EU for products produced locally can only point to further difficulty for that sector.

Though Jamaica possesses some unique products such as spices and extracts from spices, at what scale can these be carried out to make a significant impact on the economy?

Manufacturing

China being the world’s factory, I was far from convinced that our manufacturing sector, with a work force that is not particularly known for its discipline and or work ethic, would be competitive in today’s global work force.

Though he did specify low-volume, high-value design, niche products (whatever that means), I truly to this day do not understand.

Creative Industries

Then there are the Creative Industries. Most would quickly associate this with our music, that being reggae.

Last time I checked, approximately 80% of revenues derived from the Reggae Music industry globally do not make its way back to Jamaica.

Rough estimates of the size of that market places it under US$500 million per year, though others may argue it could be as high as US$750 million.

It would not be of any stretch of the imagination to assume that the other products or services associated within the Creative Industry come no way close to the revenue potential of reggae music.

Many in the audience were acting like children missing their home for a long time as they were ecstatic about the fame and power of reggae music and how it has put Jamaica on the map.

Frankly speaking, I think too much emphasis is placed on DJs and reggae artistes.

Their economic contribution, though welcomed and somewhat valuable, is, as far as I see it, overrated and over-hyped.

Everywhere I turn, all I can hear is some youth saying he wants to become a DJ or a reggae singer.

Energy

Then there is the Energy sector. Yes. The allure of alternative and renewable energy.

I have yet to see a public comprehensive project on how best to maximize this sector.

All I have seen in respect to the energy sector are the investments in wind farms, some solar energy projects, and now ethanol production.

What was also interesting within the Energy sector was an American company Mirant purchasing the JPS for approximately little over US$200 million (while that company was allegedly in bankruptcy), then turning around and selling it to a Japanese firm for approximately US$800 million and thus making a handsome profit.

ICT

Mr. Gregory mentioned outsourcing, call centres, back office tech service support, and software design.

That was basically it. After his completion of slide three, I was not certain I wanted to remain in the room based on my views stated above, as they twirled within my mind after he covered each sector on slide three.

Now even if my views are off the mark on 6 of the 7 sectors on slide three, I know for a fact, as it pertains to ICTs, that this is an area where I would consider myself as having some amount of knowledge, especially where it relates to ICTs as an avenue for significant wealth creation and for contribution to Jamaica’s GDP at greater levels than Tourism and Remittances combined.

Thus, it was from this bias that I looked at Mr. Gregory’s slide 3 with an extremely critical and cynical eye.

To the untrained eye, one may not grasp how ICTs could actually cause me to have such a bias towards that sector.

Or the very least expect much more value in information from JTI.

My bias towards the ICT sector is based on three things: (1) UWI/UTECH ICT graduates, (2) proximity to the USA, and (3) the fact that the industry, as it relates to Internet Search advertising market alone, is approximately US$45 billion per year globally. (The USA market is estimated to be US$20 billion per year).

Now this is no simple matter, and not because it is not simply about servers, programming and the intellectual capital along with human capital of our ICT graduates.

It should be noted that these very students are a part of the much talked about brain drain.

The public should realize that Jamaica has been churning out ICT graduates of high caliber for at least the last 15 years. Yahoo and Google, both multibillion companies, are over ten years old.

By now, I was beginning to wonder what this man was coming with next, as, based on what he had just presented on slide 3, certainly he had to be coming with some ways as to how to truly move Jamaica’s economy forward via investment in one way or another, and hopefully within the ICT sector.

The remainder of Mr. Gregory’s presentation

Sitting through his presentation, I could not believe what I heard next and was curious about what would follow it.

Mr. Gregory stated;

“Ladies and gentlemen, Diaspora Relations are far more than heady nationalism and foreign exchange remittances; it has become quite a highly developed technology, especially for small economies and nation states like ours”.

Well, at a glance it appeared, from my private views at the time on the matter of investment and the respective sectors, that this man was a visionary.

But I was not certain about what he meant by highly developed technology.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the information on the slide with his remarks about highly developed technology did not mention anything about a particular technology or any form of technology, especially not relating to how I interpret technology within the ICT sector to be.

By now I assumed he was merely rambling and simply going through the motions and probably did not see such an audience as suitable to actually present a more detailed presentation about investment within the sectors mentioned on slide three.

I thought to myself, ‘the JTI has several educated and smart people, there is no way this is what they actually have in store for the nation’. I thought that his presentation was simply designed for this conference and the audience which comprised the conference.

Thus, I thought to myself, ‘I need not concern myself with the content of Mr. Gregory’s presentation, after all, he must be smart to be the President of the JTI.’ The JTI is an entity that acts as the central thrust for all things pertaining to investment in Jamaica.

Now, I began to wonder when we would get to the end of Mr. Gregory’s presentation, because obviously, this was merely a formality and not some revelation on investment opportunities that eagerly awaited the Jamaican Diaspora.

However, I was not to be let off the hook so easily. Mr. Gregory proved he had more to tell. By now nothing else could have really surprised me.

Though this was not a surprise but more of reinforcement on my views, Mr. Gregory stated the following on slide 7:

“Consider the example of the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean…With 10% of its population of 1.2 million living outside of the island, Mauritius has embarked on a creative way to harness the intellectual and financial resources of its Diaspora by making the people of the Mauritian Diaspora- members of the official Mauritian Global Workforce.”

Interesting, I thought, but did the JTI actually understand what harnessing the intellectual capital of the Diaspora meant?

The harness of the financial resources, though fragmented, was fully represented in the nation’s highest income earner: remittances.

During his presentation, I constantly reflected on what was obviously missing from this conference.

It was all about ideas, but I did not see any readily available investment opportunities in Jamaica being pitched to the audience, nor did I see any Venture Capital (VC) being promoted to connect local entrepreneurs with the Diaspora.

I also realized that there was no central website connecting members of the Jamaican Diaspora from the very first day of the conference.

I also reflected about how I had already used Ning, a company that provides free social networks, and created the Jamaican Entrepreneur Association (JEA) and JAMEXEC back in April of 2008. Both were created to connect the Diaspora with local entrepreneurs, executives, and professionals respectively.

By now, he was on slide 8, on which he stated how “Mauritius has made a compelling case for pursuing a policy of Brain Gain over Brain Drain!”

Mr. Gregory went on with the remainder of his presentation and I kept thinking to myself that he was 10 years behind. Mr. Gregory’s views are not of the world I was exposed to in California.

Yet he meant good, and went on speaking about a Jamaican brain tank.

Mr. Gregory concluded his presentation with the following words. “I thank you for your attention this morning and I look forward to our spirited discussions.”

Having to sit through what, at the time, I considered to be a total horror, and also taking into consideration that his presentation must have been tailored towards the audience, and that the JTI had to have far more up its sleeve than what was revealed that day, I simply smiled, and considered how best to leverage my intellectual capital with Mr. Gregory at some later date in regards to Venture Capital and the ICT sector.

On July 1, 2008, contact was made in regards to Venture Capital and the ICT sector via the staging of Investment Conference & Expo.

ICT article in the Jamaica Observer

Then on October 27, 2008, while reading the Jamaica Observer online (a daily routine for me), I came upon the article “Indians see Jamaica as US ICT gateway”

I was not impressed and saw nothing worthy of publication in such an article, with the only exception being that it provided rich material for my opinion on the direction the JTI is currently taking in respect to the local ICT sector.

After refraining from writing an article on my horror experience of having to sit through Mr. Robert Gregory’s presentation at the Jamaica Diaspora 3rd Biennial Conference 2008, I could not restrain myself from writing this article. Especially after a series of events that unfolded after reading the article in the Jamaica Observer mentioned above.

The article clearly reinforced my opinion that the JTI and the ICT unit was absolutely clueless as it pertains to ICT investment and the way forward based on the trends in the ICT sector in Bay Area of California, USA.

Conclusion

Taken from the Jamaica Observer: “Janine Josephs said that the local ICT sector was “floundering” in the field of software development.”

Also, within the same article, it was mentioned that Mr. Robert Gregory was in talks with an Indian delegation they hosted about the creation of a Tech Park constructed along college campuses.

Now, nothing is wrong with looking at the Indians to see how they are able to amass a US$11.2 billion in 2007 from IT outsourcing.

I happen to have the opinion, not only based on the Jamaica Observer article mentioned above, but also based on Mr. Robert Gregory’s presentation as mentioned in part above, that the JTI and the ICT unit within the JTI do not possess the vision nor the technical know-how required to maximize Jamaica’s ICT potential to the point where it will be a valuable asset to the country.

The future of Jamaica’s ICT sector simply cannot be a place for low-paying jobs that involve call-centers, and the exploitation of students via possible six months internship programs with foreign firms.

Greater emphasis needs to be placed on how best to support Jamaican ICT entrepreneurs, and companies that can compete head-on with the Indian companies for a slice of their US$11.2 billion obtained in 2007 from IT outsourcing.

Thus, less emphasis should be placed on the setting up of shop simply to look for what I interpreted from the article as nothing more than cheap labour and possible exploitation of ICT university graduates.

The possibilities that exist and the benefits that can be derived from the hosting a Venture Capital Investment Conference & Expo that will involve top U.S-based Venture Capital firms should be at the top of the ICT to-do list for the Jamaican Government.

About the author

Mr. McKenzie is the Manager for Jamaica Wireless. Jamaica Wireless is a ICT Consultancy business. Mr. McKenzie participated as a panel expert on How “Cutting Edge” Technology is supporting the growth of the Media & Entertainment Industries at the 2007 Caribbean Media Conference and Expo. Mr. McKenzie specializes in research on Telecom, The Digital Home, IPTV, Internet TV, Web2.0, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Hardware & Software, and Digital Media advertising. Mr. McKenzie holds a BA in Economics from California State University Hayward (USA).

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