In the map of Georgia’s trade offices around the world, Jamaica’s prime minister has noticed a glaring omission: the Caribbean.
During a visit to Atlanta and North Georgia over Easter weekend, Prime Minister Andrew Holness laid the groundwork for conversations he hopes to change that calculation for the state.
After speaking at an awards ceremony hosted by the local Jamaican Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta, Mr. Holness met with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and received a proclamation read by a representative of Gov. Brian Kemp.
(2/2) … There are a range of possibilities from investment projects to education and sports. I consider Mayor Bottoms a friend of Jamaica and look forward to great collaborations between her city and Jamaica. pic.twitter.com/9DKRZ8M6tf
— Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) April 19, 2019
“My next trip in Atlanta, I will be seeking to possibly have a meeting with the governor to have this done,” Mr. Holness told Global Atlanta in a phone interview, noting that his government has reached out to Mr. Kemp’s office to begin such conversations on the trade office.
The visit comes at an opportune moment for the island of nearly 3 million people, the largest English-speaking country in the Caribbean.
“The best way to put it is that Jamaica is experiencing right now an economic rebirth. Jamaica is experiencing the highest consumer and business confidence that we have ever seen, and we have been measuring that now for the last 20 years,” the prime minister said.
Georgia needs not build a new foundation. Many members of the 58,000-strong Jamaican diaspora are small business owners engaged in global trade, and the state is already home to Jamaican-owned companies like Wincorp, which produces eggs sent to the hatcheries that fuel Jamaica’s poultry industry. (Mr. Holness visited the company’s operation near Gainesville on Friday, April 19.)
Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second-largest city, has had a thriving sister-city relationship with Atlanta since the 1980s based largely on health, tourism and educational exchanges. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2017 signed a deal to share operational knowledge with Montego Bay airport officials, leading to a visit focused on emergency preparedness.
Mr. Holness said both Georgia companies and Jamaican diaspora investors are welcome to participate in a growth wave realized in part by divesting government assets like wind farms and rebalancing away from debt and toward productive investments.
Jamaica’s economy is expected to grow by 1.9 percent this year, and the country has seen positive GDP growth for the last 16 quarters, the longest streak in recent years.
“The business community is re-emerging from many years of being wedded to investing in government paper and government-backed instruments,” Mr. Holness said. “Now we’re seeing a business class that is understanding the need to be entrepreneurial, to take risks, to calculate and manage risks — and that change is seeing our businesspeople looking outward, not just at the Jamaican economy, but looking to business in North America as well.”
To make the most of this newfound confidence, Jamaica’s workforce will require a good deal of training. With unemployment down to 8 percent, full employment is within reach over the next few years. That means it could be challenging to fill the jobs of the future in logistics, business process outsourcing, light manufacturing, mining and other sectors, said Mr. Holness, who said the national training agency is looking at ways to head off a skills shortage.
Jamaica can learn from Georgia’s higher education system, he said, particularly in molding curriculum and research with the needs of private industry. The HOPE scholarship model, where lottery funds are dedicated to higher education, is also something he plans to explore adapting to Jamaica, where funds are dispersed across a variety of sectors.
But a key reason for the Atlanta visit was to re-engage a diaspora that for years has been keen to support their country but disillusioned about its investment prospects.
“(Jamaican diaspora members) are seeds of the country spread all over, and we encourage them to grow wherever they are and blossom and put down strong roots, an that will make the name and the brand and the concept of Jamaica very strong in their minds of the people of the world,” he said. “The question is, How do we leverage that?’”
For years there has been a “disconnect” between the governance Jamaicans have come to expect in the countries where they live — like Canada and the United States — and what they saw enacted back home, the prime minister said. He believes his government is closing that gap by improving efficiency, better regulating monetary policy and encouraging growth. That has led to increased interest beyond the multinationals seeking opportunities in traditional sectors like agriculture, construction and bauxite mining.
“Many Jamaicans are now making a policy decision to return home or to do more business in Jamaica,” he said.
That should accelerate with reforms to the housing sector that will remove transaction taxes on land purchases and make it easier to borrow, as well as a furthering opening of equity markets. Jamaica’s stock market was the top performing exchange globally in 2018.
He hopes this will all translate into Georgians taking a look beyond the beaches for which Jamaica is best known.
“The potential for trade between Jamaica and Atlanta is significant,” Mr. Holness said. ”There is so much similarity and affinity, and we’re not that far away — just two and a half hours. We should have been doing more.”