The 2013 period has been characterized by players in the business community as one of the most challenging for them.
Barbados was rocked by a number of economic and social challenges for the year, which impacted negatively on business operations here.
During the 12-month period a number of businesses closed, there was a drop in investor confidence, job cuts and three downgrades towards the end of the year.
Despite all of this, however, officials across the business community struggled to keep people employed as they remained optimistic about the local economy up until the end of 2013.
Throughout the year business officials, including leading businessmen and women, made repeated calls for government to provide a better enabling environment, move quickly with implementing various measures and provide the populous with regular updates.
And despite the burgeoning call the Government of the day seemed reluctant, giving way to lots of criticism from stakeholders.
Throughout the year it was noted that areas of customer service, training and retraining of staff and innovation were areas to focus on in order to experience economic growth.T
There was also a greater push for entrepreneurship, increased productivity as well as the expansion of various industries, especially renewable energy.
It was not all doom and gloom for businesses. Some sectors experienced moderate growth while the performance of others remained the same throughout the year.
Looking back at the year that was, executive director of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, Bobbi McKay, told Barbados TODAY the sector remained strong despite some major challenges including trying to get residents to buy more locally produced items.
The manufacturing sector recorded a 26 per cent increase in exports for the first half of the fiscal year April 2013 to October 2013 to reach $178.6 million, when compared to 2012.
Some sub-sectors recording a slight increase in employment during the period and at the end of September 2013 the sector employed about 7,573 people.
McKay said while she found that some companies were innovative and aggressive in going after business both locally and internationally, there was still a need for more support from other industries here.
She said a number of companies were able to secure funding to invest in their operations.
“2013 had its challenges but the people who improved or found innovative ways of doing business they had successes,” said McKay. “My biggest hope for the New Year and going forward is for stronger inter-sectoral linkages. So whether it is some of the distributors carrying more local products … There has to be a balance.
“We have some hotels that have really stepped up to the plate this year and when they refurbished they bought local furniture and that kept Barbadians working. So those are the kinds of linkages I would like to see increase so that we in the manufacturing sector can maintain the jobs. We need to have the support from the other sectors,” explained McKay.
While she did not have a figure for the number of new small manufacturers that opened in 2013, McKay said there was definitely an increase in innovative products.
As for those companies that went out of business in 2013, McKay said there were two. One of them was due to a partnership that went bad.
The international business community had its share of challenges for the 2013 period.
President of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA), Ryle Weekes said: “2013 was a very challenging year for the sector as we grappled with the local economic crisis as well as global pressures from competitor jurisdictions and supranational organizations”.
He added: “However, the over 400 international business entities registered this year indicates that Barbados continues to be a preferred jurisdiction among professionals and high net worth individuals. As the global economy continues to rebound, we anticipate that increase activity from this steadily growing base of international entities along with regular business companies operating in the industry, will spur growth in the sector and wider economy”.
Weekes said he believed a “relentless commitment” was needed by both the public and private sector to collaboratively undertake the necessary measures to revitalize and r eform the economy.
He suggested that firms in the international business sector should drive more business into the jurisdiction by leading the charge into new markets, delivering innovative solutions to clients and upholding the highest levels of professionalism and c ustomer service.
“The public sector must embrace new technologies and operational procedures to usher in a new era of efficiency, transparency and nimbleness in the facilitation of local and international business activities. The Government must consult meaningfully with all stakeholders, lead the implementation of best practices, strategic initiatives and instill confidence in the local and international arenas, with the integrity and sophistication of their stewardship,” explained Weekes.
President of the Small Business Association (SBA), Dalton Medford, said the 2013 period proved to be difficult for its members because of the economic climate. He said customers noticeably cut back on their spending on goods and services. That was also evident from government agencies.
“So you had to be carefully measuring the stock levels and carefully monitoring business. It was a rather challenging year,” said Medford.
He said over the 12 months there was an increase in the number of people setting up businesses as a matter of helping themselves. Medford described it as “more of survival type start-up businesses”.
Economist Justin Robinson described 2013 as “quite a difficult year” for the government as well as businesses.
Robinson said while it had been challenging year for the government, he believed once the fiscal adjustment programmes were implemented and various projects such as Four Seasons the Pier-head and cruise terminal projects were expedited, then the economy should start seeing some stability.
Meanwhile, president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Lalu Vaswani told Barbados TODAY the year as one of contemplation for businesses “given the shifting economic stances”.
“The economic climate has been one of decline and the outlook still has some challenges pending the full implementation of the budget solutions offered by the Minister of Finance [Christopher Sinckler],” said Vaswani.
He said: “Businesses are extremely concerned about protecting firstly the security of the over 30,000 employees our members represent as well as the sustainability of their companies. We cannot stress too much the imperative and singular importance of government implementing its economic solutions that will protect the economy and contribute to a path of recovery and growth”.
There is no doubt that 2013 will go down in history as one of the most difficult for businesses – both employers and employees – in Barbados. [email protected]