Jamaica USA Chamber of Commerce Rallies the Diaspora to Be Ready for Greater Opportunities Back Home

by Mellissa Thomas

The Jamaica USA Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida (JAUSACCCF), in partnership with the Jamaica National Building Society, hosted its Business and Personal Development Symposium May 21, 2015, spurring the diaspora on to greater business and economic opportunities back in Jamaica. The speaker list included JAUSACCCF President Heather Chisholm; Marie Gill, President of the Jamaica USA Chamber of Commerce (the mother chapter in Miami); Wayne Golding, Esq., Jamaica Diaspora Board Representative for the Southern USA region; former AT&T corporate attorney Nathaniel Friends, Esq., Infinite Marketing Group CEO Garfield Price; and Jamaica National Building Society’s Chief Representative Officer Janice McIntosh. JAUSACCCF Advisory Board member, CEO of Break Away Moments and Journey of Joy Children’s Events, and charismatic diaspora community personality Sandy Isaacs was the day’s emcee; and special guests included Herbert Dawkins, President of the Jamaica Association of Central Florida, Miss Orlando Caribbean Kiffany Adams, and Orlando City Soccer goalie Donovan Ricketts.


“Are You Ready?”

“Jamaica’s diaspora is strong,” Attorney Golding declared, “The name Jamaica is synonymous with success.” He explained that there are 700,000 Jamaicans among the thirteen states he represents in his region, and many of them are in leadership positions in major corporations, including one who is instrumental in running a major airport.

However, he exposed the flipside: “But there is a lack of organization.”

He said the difference between successful ventures and those that fail is failure to complete the necessary paperwork. “Can you take the test of scrutiny?” he asked. “A lot of businesspeople are not ready.” He said many are running businesses that are not legally registered, lack insurance, and other details. He encouraged the audience that those who wish to bring any grievances to him about doing business in Jamaica should come with a solution ready and all legal affairs in order so he can address the issue(s) with the various organizations he meets with there.


Opportunities Abound Back Home

Jamaica National Building Society Chief Representative Officer Janice McIntosh listed the current and developing investment opportunities in Jamaica, announcing that the country has risen twenty-seven points to #58 on the World Bank’s list of best nations with which to do business.

Opportunities include Jamaica’s strong tourism industry, music and culture (including the arts and filmmaking), and shipping. According to McIntosh, Jamaica will soon be capable of dry-docking, which will increase its strength in the logistics market. Furthermore, she noted that agriculture is on the rise again due to “import substitution,” the country’s return to growing and consuming its own crops and importing less food products.

McIntosh also presented opportunities in “wellness tourism.” There is a growing need for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and medical facilities to be built in Jamaica for senior citizens and those with mental or physical disabilities in the diaspora to travel there and receive those services. Additionally on the real estate front, there is a growing market for accommodations away from the giant resorts. She said entrepreneurs are starting bed-and-breakfasts in non-traditional locations to help tourists experience more of the country and its culture.

On the financial front, she mentioned that it is easy to get credit in Jamaica, which is essential for startups seeking business capital; and Jamaica recently passed its eleventh test for the International Monetary Fund.

To further unify the home country with its diaspora, McIntosh shared the Mapping Jamaica’s diaspora Project, which launched last June, and serves as a directory for entrepreneurs and businesses in Jamaica and across the diaspora that fosters economic development and prosperity among Jamaicans (natives, descendants, naturalized Jamaica citizens, and spouses who marry into Jamaican families), including outsourcing opportunities.

Some Disadvantages…and the Solutions in Progress

McIntosh shared Jamaica’s most glaring disadvantages: crime, poverty, and low literacy. The crime issue is being addressed with Golding’s help, who has brought Jamaica’s Police Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner to the U.S. to learn of the police policies and processes here and incorporate some solutions there. She said there are social programs being formulated to increase literacy and decrease crime rates across the island.


Timeless Business Counseling


Attorney Nathaniel Friends. Photo: Mellissa Thomas

Attorney Nathaniel Friends. Photo: Mellissa Thomas

Nathaniel Friends, Esq., who now serves as a member of Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), and Infinite Marketing Group CEO Garfield Price imparted sage business advice.

The former law professor and former Dean of Student Affairs at Florida A&M University School of Law covered the nuts and bolts of the legal side of business, including the differences between business entities, what needs to be documented, and what needs to be registered with the right organizations and agencies. In one example, he relayed that while LLC’s are the go-to entity for many entrepreneurs, they must know that investors’ interests in an LLC are called memberships, not shares, and each membership is a financial security and must be registered.

Additionally, Friends reminded the audience that while many may think it is okay to simply let a company become inactive if it fails, it must be officially dissolved. If it is not, the IRS will fine the business owner each year for taxes owed.

Price, whose client list includes Grace Foods USA, imparted the keys to marketing success: know who you are, make strategic partnerships, form relationships, and always give first—and more than you’re asking for—before asking. “Don’t live and let live,” Price said, “Live and help [others] live.”

Starting a Marketing Movement Among U.S. Corporations

“There is no Caribbean budget in most companies in America,” Price said, and asked the audience why, considering that Jamaicans are the wealthiest black group per capita in the U.S. and over eighty percent of restaurant owners in South Florida are Jamaicans. He exhorted the audience that to appeal to big corporations, entrepreneurs must appeal to a specific budget in the company, usually the discretionary, African American, or Diversity budget.

He noted that as recently as ten years ago, there were no ethnic aisles in supermarkets. Now not only are the aisles present, but his marketing work with Grace Foods USA has made Grace more profitable in Walmart than its cereal isle, which Price said has never happened before—the cereal isle has always produced the greatest revenue. Also, thanks to his work with Grace Foods USA, Publix Supermarkets is now developing Caribbean marketing material. He believes it is time for the diaspora to change the marketing landscape so corporations know that the Caribbean population’s money is just as powerful as any other target market.


Putting the Resources to Action

JAUSACC President and Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center Executive Director Marie Gill updated the audience with the moves the Chamber has made in working with Jamaica’s government to create business partnerships in Jamaica. She said the Chamber completed a Memorandum of Understanding with JAMPRO, Jamaica’s trade and investment organization, so people in the diaspora can start doing business with Jamaica. The MOU was four years in the making and she noted that after seeing the Chamber’s MOU, JAMPRO and Minister Brown said yes, recognizing JAUSACC as the diaspora organization they will seriously do business with. “They said, ‘Other organizations approach us with projects,’” Gill recalled of her conversations with Minister Brown and JAMPRO. “‘But they’re not ready.’”

Gill shared three funding sources: the MBDA Business Center, a U.S. Department of Commerce program that helps provide access to capital; the State of Florida Economic Opportunities Program; and credit unions, which are now partnering with the Small Business Administration to offer small business loans. She said the SBA offsets the risk to the credit unions, which is why they are now comfortable with offering the loans.

In her brief overview of the JAUSACC, she stated that the Chamber was the trade and investment arm of Jamaica’s diaspora and started two years before the Jamaica diaspora movement was launched. There are 344 members in the Chamber, thirty-nine of which comprise the Central Florida chapter. JAUSACC is a member of the Association of Bi-National Chambers, which consists of forty-five country chambers and over 8,000 members. Gill reminded the audience of its access to this massive talent pool.

She announced that she and Ms. Chisholm would be attending the Jamaica Diaspora Conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica June 13-18, 2015, seeking to speak with various government Ministries to get the ball rolling for the diaspora to start doing business there. She encouraged the audience to bring any ideas to the Central Florida chapter, which will be included in a white paper she will present during the conference.


The Possibilities are Endless

Gill closed with one final maxim that echoed the sentiment of the entire symposium and diaspora movement. “What lies behinds, what lies ahead us, pale in comparison to what lies within us.”

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