Jamaica needs many more Barclay Ewarts to drive a manufacturing renaissance


Sunday, February 12, 2012

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IN his tribute to Barclay Ewart, his friend, legendary entrepreneur Danny Williams, described the young Barclay Ewart as a modest person, who, despite his outstanding achievements in the field of sports, never let it go to his head. He was however "determined to achieve his goals and worked assiduously at them, but was never unduly aggressive or vulgar in his efforts to do so".

Williams described him as "true nationalist", "entrepreneur" and most importantly "a true industrialist".

If we look quickly at Ewart's background, he went abroad to Notre Dame University in the US to study chemical engineering on a track scholarship, switched to a degree in business administration, and when he came back to Jamaica took a job as a salesman with National Cash Register Company, selling office equipment and business machines. Such a background would seem the ideal preparation to become a serial industrial entrepreneur, involved in multiple businesses, which in Ewart's case included Tanners Jamaica, which he founded, Alkali Limited, Industrial Chemicals, Power & Tractors, and Leder Mode.

More importantly, the ability to create new industries, or take old industries to another level, is the crucial element missing in job creation in Jamaica. The unfortunate fact is that it is not struggling entrepreneurs of necessity, creating limited value-added through buying and selling, that is going to drive job creation in Jamaica. It is only through entrepreneurs of opportunity, which an older generation might typically have called industrialists, such as Mr. Ewart, setting up new value-added industries in manufacturing, that will see the creation of the jobs Jamaica needs.

Williams noted that he had lent Ewart what would have then been a significant sum of 5,000 pounds (he stressed he was repaid) to buy a stake in the company of which he was managing director, namely, Industrial Chemicals. The issue of the mobilisation of capital for industry remains a critical problem in Jamaica, an issue that I have tried to address in my online paper "A new approach to development banking in Jamaica". Such capital needs to be patient capital. As Williams notes, Ewart "was not only interested in short-term gains. He was quite willing to invest his time and money in long term projects." Only a long-term approach can create new manufacturing industries, allowing Ewart (and so many others) to achieve his wish "to help Jamaica become a better place for all Jamaicans to live in".

Williams noted that when he became minister of industry and commerce in the late 1970's, he asked Barclay to be the Chairman of the then Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation (JIDC), which he accepted. It is worth noting that the JIDC's mandate, when it was created in the 1950's, included industrial development, provision of factory space, engineering services, food technology, industrial training and investment facilitation, amongst other things. Compared to today, at first glance, this appears much more of a one-stop shop for industry. Jdic, and some of its functions, were eventually subsumed into JAMPRO.

According to Williams, when Ewart was a senator in 1989 to 1993, he made one of the most far reaching analysis of the industrial development required in Jamaica at a budget debate. His particular focus was the government's energy policy. As Williams puts it, "He could not understand why the powers that be could not realise that the only sensible alternative was to turn to coal as our source of fuel to produce electricity. After all, wasn't America producing some 70% of its electricity from coal", a debate which continues, despite Mr. Ewart having made his first report on this issue around 1980, as he observed at an Observer luncheon in 2009.

Last Tuesday evening, immediately before Ewart's funeral, local broker Stocks and Securities limited had a forum appropriately entitled "Manufacturing in Jamaica, Small and Medium Enterprises." The first presenter, Krishna Vaswani, described how, after moving back to Jamaica in 2004 (with a science background), rather than go into the family trading business, he made the difficult decision to go into manufacturing in Jamaica. In his case, he revived a piece of an old dormant factory, namely that of the formerly listed old West Indies Pulp and Paper business, to go into the manufacturing of toilet paper under the corporate name of Quality Incorporation. Interestingly, the countries that he "slowly but surely took back business from" were mainly Trinidad and China, the two countries that have probably gained the most in terms of manufacturing market share in Jamaica over the past two decades. As his well known colleague at the same seminar, former Jamaica Manufacturers' Association president Omar Azan noted, "manufacturing matters", surely a sentiment with which Ewart would have strongly agreed. Perhaps Ewart's passing will mark the moment when Jamaica turn words into action to reverse its decades-long decline in manufacturing.




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