Business View Caribbean interviews John Valentine of Jamaica Pre-mix and Tom Brown of Jamaica Aggregates – best practices in construction in Jamaica.
Jamaica Pre-Mix (JPM) Limited is a fully-owned subsidiary of Ledgehill International, Inc., a Florida-based company that was started in 1959 to supply the Jamaican construction industry with the highest quality ready mixed concrete and aggregates. “Going back about 20 years, there were only two or three concrete companies on the island,” says John Valentine, Managing Director of Jamaica Pre-mix. “In 2001, Pre-mix acquired its major competitor, Redimix Concrete Limited, which automatically gave us close to 90 percent of the market share at that time. Today it has about 65 percent of the market; the rest of the market is taken by a group of about six smaller companies.” JPM is also the largest purchaser of bulk cement from the island’s only producer, Caribbean Cement Company.
“Concrete is manufactured on request,” Valentine continues. “We have coverage from the western end of the island in Negril, all the way across to the eastern end as far as Port Antonio, so we have island-wide coverage with six concrete plants and two portable plants which can be put up on remote locations. We are the largest supplier of ready-mix concrete in the industry in Jamaica and we are the predominant supplier. When somebody from overseas comes with a major project, what they see is a serious attempt to provide first world service in a third world environment in terms of technology, training of staff, equipment, capacity, service, etc. We have internationally recognized specifications that we adopt. The equipment that we use has state-of-the-art, computerized batching systems that the other companies cannot provide, so there is a greater level of accountability by this company in the sale of concrete versus our competitors.”
“In 2008, a joint venture between Jamaica Pre-mix and LafargeHolcim, created Jamaica Aggregates, which is the largest construction aggregate company in the country,” says Tom Brown, Managing Director of Jamaica Aggregates. “The ingredients for ready-mix concrete are cement, sand, gravel, and water. Jamaica Aggregates sells the sand and the gravel to Jamaica Pre-mix. They’re our partner and our customer, as well.”
“We have plants located in four different parishes – St. Thomas, St. Mary, St. Catherine, and Trelawney,” Brown continues. “All of our customers are in the business of building, be it housing or commercial buildings or infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, ports, dams, and so forth. We sell to industrial clients and manufacturers of blocks, decorative stones, ready-mixed concrete, hot-mixed asphalt; we sell to large contractors, we sell to individual contractors; we sell to a lot of different customers, all of whom are dedicated to the Jamaican construction market. Jamaica Aggregate also exports construction aggregates to islands around the Caribbean. The aggregate operation directly employs around 50 people across the four sites. We also have 50 more contractors and partners that are dedicated to our operation. We also employ an administrative staff, including commercial, finance, human resources, marketing and so forth.”
In terms of differentiating itself from the competition, Brown admits that there are several other Jamaican companies that also manufacture sand and gravel to serve the Jamaican construction industry and are good at what they do. “So, we try our best to meet the needs of our customers and let them decide which sand and gravel producer gives them the best value,” he states. “We do our best to offer a good customer experience and that means good quality, reliability of supply, as well as easy ordering and payment. We try to meet the various technical requirements of projects that our customers have and to have a real partnership with them on their projects.”
“We’re constantly seeking ways to improve our operations so we can better serve the needs of our customers,” Brown adds. “At Jamaica Aggregates, we opened our Agualta Vale plant at St. Mary Parish on the north coast of the island in the fourth quarter of last year, so, in terms of capacity we’re serving a wider swath of the Jamaican market, today. We did that so we could more efficiently serve our customers with their construction projects on the north coast. In Jamaica, a significant portion of Gross Domestic Product is related to tourism, the vast majority of which is on the north coast. So, you have a lot of construction needs in that area, which Jamaican Aggregates is now well-positioned, and Jamaica Pre-mix has been well-positioned, to serve.”
Valentine reports that there was an upsurge of tourism-related construction between 2004 and 2007, but as a result of the Great Recession, activity slowed down considerably for several years. “The market is just starting to come back now,” he asserts. “A lot of projects that started work were put on hold, but the general assumption is that there has been steady growth in construction in Jamaica since 2014, ’15, ’16, and ’17, and we anticipate this trend to continue for a few more years. We’re trying our best to expand, as needed, to meet the projected demand.”
“There’s a real need in Jamaica for improved construction,” says Brown. “This is true for homes, apartments, roads, bridges, ports, and so forth. This is especially relevant, given the nature of the weather that we frequently face in Jamaica like hurricanes. Our buildings need to be strong; our building codes need to be robust. Concrete is a building material that is sustainable and well-adapted to the needs of the Jamaican marketplace. Together, we always strive to deliver value to our customers and their construction projects by producing and supplying quality sand and gravel, and quality concrete, and I don’t expect that to change in the future, regardless of what changes take place in the marketplace.”