Direct employment figures within the manufacturing industry may be down, but the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association (BMA) executive director Bobbi McKay says she is satisfied with the achievements of the industry over the past five decades.
McKay said the BMA, which represents all manufacturers on the island, was proud of the achievements –– what was currently taking place in the industry, and that there there were plans to take it back to previous levels of employment and production.
The BMA celebrated 50 years on Wednesday, and McKay sat with Barbados TODAY as she took a look back at the association’s journey and offered a glimpse of future plans for the industry.
She said it was heart-warming to see a lot more young people producing new and innovative items and no longer copying from each other; and that was an area the BMA was closely monitoring.
“So we want to do a lot more facilitating of young people who have ideas to help them bring their products to market,” said McKay, adding that she was “quite proud” of the association’s history.
It was on July 23, 1964, that the BMA was formed out of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) by Sir Kenneth Hunte and some of his colleagues. It started with ten members and has since expanded to include a wide range of operators from a cross section of sectors, including furniture, garment, construction, mechanics, food and beverage, as well as a number of subsectors.
Lauding the presidents who served the BMA over the years, McKay, who took up her position just over eight years ago, said there has been a good mix with strong background in manufacturing.
“I would say that we have been focused in our mission and singular in purpose,” said McKay, adding that the association was working diligently on getting more international exposure for local manufacturers.
The passionate buy local advocate observed: “That is what we eat, sleep and live. So whether it is lobbying or teaching or whatever, the bottom line is we are always facilitating improved products, labels, and letting the people know what we have, pushing the Buy Bajan programme and promoting products for new markets, bringing in buyers to expose Barbadian products to facilitate the manufacturers and earn foreign exchange.”
And that, said Mckay, will continue.
She quickly pointed out, however, that while the association and its members continued to work hard there was still a lot more to be done.
“We have a lot of recovery to do, because when I came we were close to about 12,000 employees in the plants alone. Now we have dropped to just around 10,000. So there have been some losses,” acknowledged McKay. “I see us coming back. The good thing is that the University of the West Indies’ department of management studies did a study a couple years ago, which was an eye-opener for us.
“It showed that we were not counting the other jobs that the manufacturing sector creates in the services industry . . . and it is two to one. So for every one job in a plant there are two jobs that are in services,” she offered.
She said that over the years lobbying for “a level playing field” for local manufacturers had not been easy, but it was something players in the industry were passionate about. McKay said she was also satisfied that more local firms were purchasing from local furniture manufacturers.
Looking back at how the efforts of the BMA had changed over the years, McKay explained that lobbying was done more softly now than was the case back in the 1970s and 1980s.
“We lobby a lot more quietly, but we manage to be successful,” said McKay, pointing out that most of the lobbying seemed like it went on “forever”. She said one of the areas players in the industry wanted improvement in was the time it took Government and other policymakers to make decisions on matters critical to the industry.
“We would like to see some of the technocrats understand that everybody is a part of this process. We have to make it a burning issue. That is where we want to see the changes,” said McKay.
When it comes to exporting, McKay said while it was something she supported that local manufacturers do, it was easier said than done.
“You have to understand what the challenges are. Yes, export is a really sexy word, but there is cost to export. Every country that you export to has different language, different labels and other requirements,” explained McKay.
She said one of the major plans for the future of the BMA was to educate Barbadians more about the sector and the different requirements involved. She said a focus would be placed on educating some of the technocrats with the hope that they would understand the urgency with which the industry players needed them to act.
“Exporting is good, but people have to understand what is involved and not just be touting it. They have to know what really happens behind the scenes. For an order of pepper sauce, for example, what that manufacturer has to go through to get that container filled, get raw materials. Do they have the money or do they have to go and get it?
“And while there are facilities . . . how easy is it to access it and pay it back at the end?”
Though the BMA continues to tweak its various programmes every year to ensure the best results for members, McKay says the association will also be introducing some new ones.
“We want to do an innovation incubator. We have been talking about this for a little while with the [Barbados] Community College and the University of the West Indies. The idea of the innovation incubator is to have an open space where they can feed off each other’s energy and create new products and build on the ideas they have now.
“That is one of the things we want to complete within eight months to a year. We are working on the structure of it and we intend to include different sister agencies,” McKay added.