A suggestion this week by Government Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner that the island had no real manufacturing to speak of has not gone down well with key players in that sector.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Sandals job fair on Tuesday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Sandiford-Garner said the response by thousands of people was not a negative reflection on the employment situation on the island.
The outspoken senator went on to state that Barbados was “an economy that does not have any manufacturing element”.
“We don’t export anything, [and] we are not planting,” argued Sandiford-Garner, who was at the time the Acting Minister of Tourism.
However, executive director of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association (BMA) Bobbi McKay has shot back at her, saying nothing could be further from the truth.
McKay has also sought to warn the tourism official that the island “cannot stand on one leg alone”.
In fact, based on a University of the West Indies (UWI) study, she pointed out that every job in manufacturing, creates two jobs in services.
“We already know the benefits. We have manufacturers who already provide hotels with strong food and beverage products. We are now looking to increase the number of furniture and other products in the form of cleaning and others that we sell to the tourism industry. So we have to work hand in hand,” said McKay.
Noting that members of the association were generally not pleased with Sandiford-Garner’s comments, she complained that too often in Barbados people refer to manufacturers as just businesses, and do not see the industry for what it is.
McKay made specific reference to the local conglomerate Banks Holdings Limited (BHL), saying the island had manufacturers that were also in the export business and as a result were raking in millions of dollars in foreign exchange for the country each year.
“I am not confrontational but we can show the millions and millions of dollars that manufacturing generates,” said McKay.
“When they think of manufacturers they don’t think of the pharmaceutical companies, Banks, Pinehill or Hipac, for example. They think of them as big businesses. When you think of manufacturers they might think of the little businesses that are having a tough time. So they don’t understand that these big businesses are also manufacturers. Maybe it was an honest mistake that she [Sandiford-Garner] made,” McKay added.
The BMA president further pointed out that major manufacturing companies, such as BHL, Lenstec, Carlisle Laboratories, Arawak Cement, Williams Industries, and Roberts Manufacturing, accounted for the island’s major exports over the past five years.
Of the overall export figure, the pharmaceutical sector accounted for over US$46 million last year. The beverage, optics and mining sectors also contributed over US$52 million, US$23 million and $21 million respectively, according to McKay.
Industry records further show that vegetables and animal fat products raked in over US$12 million last year, while the cereal and confectionary sectors earned US$9 million and $8 million respectively.
“We take responsibility for not educating people more about what we do and the amount of foreign exchange that we save,” said McKay.
“We have smaller companies that may not be exporting as much, but what they manufacture are things that we do not need to import. Therefore it gives us strong import replacement.
“To make the linkages it comes right back to supporting our own because no matter what product it is . . . the more we support our local producers . . . we could take some of the guys off the block,” she added.
In relation to tourism being the industry to drive the economy forward, She said what was needed was greater local support for Barbadian manufactured items so they could in turn employ more people and for all sectors working in conjunction.