Barbados Manufacturers’ Association marks milestone, makes progress
The Barbados Manufacturers’ Association has a rich, highly effective history.
In 2014, its milestone 50th anniversary provided opportunity for recommitment to the organization’s mission – to strengthen and develop the manufacturing sector in Barbados through collaboration and maximizing opportunities, both at the local and global levels.
A vision for local manufacturing and a commitment to the growth and development of local manufactures is the impetus behind the association’s work. One of its primary objectives and mandates continues to be the development of its members and the provision of maximum exposure for products both locally and internationally. To this end, initiatives like BMEX – the association’s flagship exhibition – and others that showcase local products and talents are vigorously pursued.
Advocacy, networking opportunities, mentorship, product showcasing and promotion, national campaigns and public sensitization are but some of the avenues the BMA uses to advance the manufacturing sector locally, ensuring a strong sector and, inevitably, a strong national economy.
In spite of many challenges, Barbados is ranked 44th on the Global Competitiveness Index thanks to the national infrastructure’s facilitation of functioning institutions, good extensive use of information communication technology, an excellent educational system and a sophisticated business community.
Manufacturing has been recognized as a major contributor to the island’s economic development, and the sector is key for the creation of jobs in industry while at the same time reducing leakage of foreign exchange. It has been researched and documented that for every job in the manufacturing sector, two jobs are produced in the services sector.
The reality is that manufacturing is still a major source for jobs and an earner of foreign exchange.
The importance of exporting is paramount for the country’s economic recovery and the manufacturing sector has a primary role to play in this arena. The association’s export initiatives include trade shows/exhibitions to display the products and services of its members with both inward and outward missions.
The importance of trade partners is undeniable, and, according to statistical data, Barbados’ main exports during 2012 were sent to the following trading partners:
Trinidad & Tobago: 20.8 percent
U.S.: 11.9 percent
St. Lucia: 9.7 percent
St. Vincent & the Grenadines: 6.0 percent
Jamaica: 5.6 percent
Antigua & Barbuda: 4.9 percent
St. Kitts & Nevis: 4.6 percent
Exposure of products is everything and the hallmark of the BMA has been its “Buy Bajan, Buy Local” theme. In 2001, the association launched its “Buy Local” campaign, a program designed to capture the imagination of consumers, make them aware of the range of locally produced products and instill a sense of pride when they bought local products. The program, which is still integral to the association’s work, encourages consumers to check their labels and to choose to buy local first, each and every time.
It is designed to save jobs, develop the sector and reduce the national import bill. The effectiveness of these campaigns is evident in the increased knowledge and awareness of locally manufactured products and in the increased sales realized by the sector.
“The reality is that the benefits to the country as a whole are tremendous when we push the buying local concept – not only for the manufacturers,” said BMA President Karlene Nicholls. “We strive hard to maintain our relevance as an association, and whether it is a matter relating to the port and shipping, facilitating financial assistance or training and skill development, the association is always agitating on behalf of its members in order to ensure business continuity and development.
“Too often the importance of manufacturing to the national economy is underestimated. If we took a look at global leaders like the USA who previously outsourced their manufacturing we would recognize that they are all bringing it back home. A country can’t trade services for most of its goods. According to the WTO, 80 percent of world trade among regions is merchandise trade — that is, only 20 percent of world trade is in services.”
“My personal passion is to see continuous improvement across the sector and see us move forward together and eradicate the misconceptions of manufacturing as a career dead-end industry. The sector holds so many possibilities and opportunities. I want to see businesses within the manufacturing sector grow, expand and build sustainable businesses. To keep the sector moving, the key ingredient is exposure, and this is facilitated through BMEX and our Buy Bajan campaign, which showcases the best of what we have to offer, bringing national, regional and international attention to manufacturing in Barbados, and the latter raises awareness of locally manufactured products in Barbados.
“The average view of manufacturing tends to be very limited and at time erroneous. When some think of manufacturing they still think of dim and dusty operations. Some of our manufacturers run fully automated state-of-the-art facilities. We are constantly increasing our standards and moving toward manufacturing excellence. We are now 50 years strong and are getting stronger ever year. Manufacturing is here to stay.
“Undoubtedly, there are a number of challenges which the sector faces. The largest to our mind is competitiveness. While the quality and craftsmanship of local manufacturing is undeniably first class, we are forced to compete against foreign goods, be it right here at home or abroad where the playing field is not level. We must compete with markets whose labor costs are much lower, who have cheaper access to energy and who benefit from greater economies of scale than we do.”
One of the BMA’s primary objectives and mandates continues to be the development of its members and the provision of maximum exposure for their products, both locally and internationally. Also key for us is training. We want to make sure manufacturers have the right tools and access to the necessary resources. That is the drive behind our collaboration with the Cave Hill School of Business and other partners on various initiatives such as the Entrepreneurial Survival Series.
“Our manufacturers are also recognizing the need to be more creative, to innovate and adopt performance standards,” Nicholls said. “There are several manufacturers in this country who are ISO certified, who have outstanding brands competing on the regional and international stage. But unfortunately so many people are still not aware of the wide variety and quality we produce across the spectrum of locally manufactured products.”
Adherence to international standards and capacity building are also some other hurdles which need to be conquered, so the BMA has been placing effort on standards and compliance. For many manufacturers, the next step in business growth is the development of an export market. It is one sure way to break free from the limitations of the local market. A number of manufacturers are already export ready, while others are putting things in place to be ready.
Consequently, the BMA is working on compliance. FDAA regulations for the importation of food and Miami-Dade standards for the importation of windows and doors are examples of the standards which must be met for local manufacturers to successfully export to U.S. markets. The association is working with agencies such as the National Council for Science and Technology and National Standards Institute to help manufacturers reach compliance.
As in any business sector, stronger strategic partnerships are vital. There is a need for greater inter-agency collaboration between the BMA, the Barbados Industrial Development Corporation and the Small Business Association, and others. The primary objectives are the same – local business development and growth of the national economy. As resources are pooled, best practices shared and national opportunities maximized, the economy can grow.
“Is there still a lot of work to be done? Of course the answer is yes,” Nicholls said. “From standards to labelling to marketing and beyond, there is a lot manufacturers need to do to safeguard their future. However, the biggest factor which will determine our success is our attitude and tenacity. As the association continues to celebrate 50 years of service to Barbadians, it asks that Barbadians continue to support local products, local jobs and drive the country’s future as a nation.”