Today the Jamaica Observer publishes the first story on the nominees for this year's Business Leader Award. All nominees for the award are non-private sector entities that facilitate the growth and development of private companies in Jamaica.
The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) is unlikely to cross the minds of most individuals when they go shopping for items that may have reached the island inside 20-foot containers nestled in the hull of a cargo ship.
But business deals that typically begin with an order placed by a Jamaican entrepreneur to a producer in China would be to no avail without a porting infrastructure that can facilitate the timely and economically feasible delivery of the merchandise.
The PAJ is a creature of Government — it was created in 1972 by an act of Parliament and falls under the rubric of the Ministry of Transportation. It has remained faithful to its original mandate and, over the years, has borne the financial risks — measured in the tens of billions of dollars — of building a modern port that meets the ever-changing needs of the local business sector.
Through its wholly-owned subsidiary Kingston Container Terminal Ltd, the PAJ provides safe berthing facilities for delivery vessels. Each day, its giant cranes and specialised heavy-duty equipment offload thousands of 40-foot and 20-foot containers.
The containers are packed with raw material and finished goods that will meet the needs of Jamaican manufacturers and retailers, individuals, hospitals, schools, and other public and private institutions of all forms and sizes.
Over the years the PAJ has developed facilities that have kept pace with the demands of Jamaica's businesses. In short, today containerised wharfing service is neither a physical constraint nor an undue cost burden on those whose businesses rely on the movement of goods in and out of the island.
This has been a creditable public/private sector symbiosis in which the Government-run organisation has kept its end of the bargain.
What's more, if its latest expansion plans fully materialise, the PAJ would pivot from being an agency that strives to satisfy the growing commercial demands of its customers, to affirmatively priming the entire Jamaican economy for growth and development.
The dredging of the sea floor and increase in container handling capacity will enable Jamaica to berth mega-vessels that will traverse the region once the widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2016. Most experts believe that the outcome -- Jamaica becoming a major transhipment hub -- would be a game-changer not just for the local shipping industry, but the entire economy.
Located at the southerly tip of the capital, the Port of Kingston with its sky-scraping cranes is the most identifiable asset within the vast portfolio of the Port Authority, and is arguably the operation through which the PAJ largely impacts local industry.
The numbers speak volumes: between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012, the PAJ handled over 29 million metric tonnes of containerised goods, with Kingston Container Terminal Ltd accounting for the bulk. Those goods were delivered by 3,600 ship calls, and involved 1.6 million (20-foot equivalent) containers.
But this organisation has other important operations under its charge, not the least of which are the ports where cruise passenger ships dock to offload the hundreds of thousands of tourists wishing to sample a thin slice of the Jamaican culture. These are: the Port of Montego Bay, the Port of Ocho Rios, and more recently, the Historic Falmouth Port.
The Ken Wright Cruise Ship Pier in Port Antonio was developed by the PAJ with a view of attracting mega-yachts to the island -- though that facility is yet to fully live up to expectation.
Other assets include:
* Cargo ports in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
* Montego Bay Free Zone Ltd -- a company that manages MoBay free zone.
* Ports Management and Security Ltd -- a 51 per cent partnership stake with the private sector-held Kingston Wharves and the Shipping Association of Jamaica. This company is responsible for security services at the cruise ship ports.
* Kingston Free Zone Ltd -- management of the free zone and Portmore Informatics Park.
The PAJ's role as a developer, owner and manager of Jamaica's cruise ship piers represents a major area of collaboration with the private sector and another avenue by which this State-owned company has been a facilitator of local entrepreneurism.
Last year, more than 1.3 million tourists visited Jamaica on 400 cruise ship calls to the PAJ-operated docks. This represented a 40 per cent increase in arrivals over the previous year and was, in part, validation of the PAJ's investment decision -- in which it partnered with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd to open up the sleepy town of Falmouth to the cruise industry.
For this initiative the PAJ was recognised with several industry awards including the World Travel Awards 2011 World's Leading Tourism Development Project; and Cruise Insight magazine's 2011 Best Local Initiative.
But the more powerful testament to the fact that the success in growing visitor arrivals is more than abstract data in tourism accounting ledgers is to be found inside the island's resort towns.
The increased visitor arrivals is spawning new businesses in tour bus services, soft adventure tours, and restaurants -- and is helping to keep thousands of Jamaicans in gainful employment.
Unlike its private sector counterparts, returning a profit has never been the raison d'être of the PAJ; this is not to say that generating net income has not been important for this organisation. On the contrary, its revenues over the years have helped the institution fund its developmental programmes without having to unduly lean on the public purse.
Today, the PAJ's role as an enabler of private entrepreneurism is undergirded by a strong balance sheet and consistent profitability in its operation. For the year ended March 31, 2012 it had total assets of $50 billion and equity of just under $13 billion. From revenue of almost $14 billion for the full year to March 31, 2012, it generated net profit of $686 million.
Yet this institution remains steadfast in its drive to improve the efficiency at which it delivers its services, both to its shipping clients and to the Jamaican business sector. It has in place a programme of continuous employee training and a policy of constantly reinvesting its net income in cutting-edge equipment.
It also maintains a robust marketing programme aimed at driving an ever increasing volume of cruise ships and their passengers through its ports.
The PAJ also meets its mandate of ensuring that Jamaica maintains its status as a compliant signatory to the standards and procedures of the International Maritime Organisation/International Ship and Port Facility Code.
The Business Leader Award will be held on Sunday, December 1 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston beginning at 4:30 pm. The programme this year is sponsored by: