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Jamaica Logistics Hub - for God's sake don't blow it!

Franklin Johnston

Friday, February 01, 2013    

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The legacy of oil in Trinidad is visible there. We have no legacies of aluminium; no art, structures or monuments which say to posterity "Yes we had alumina and bauxite!" For centuries we were a top agro-industrial nation, today we can't feed ourselves. Our serial Cabinets shame us. We were a maritime country from the time of the Tainos now we do not sail, crew vessels or swim much; a hub for pirates, crewing and provisioning ships; Logistics and Jamaica are like "bulla and pear". I declare interest. The Jamaica Logistics Hub (the Hub) is about jobs, growth, progress but the root is education, training and our natural asset "Location, location, location!". Don't blow it! Columbus did not land in our neck of the woods by accident; trade winds waft you across the Atlantic to Ocho Rios - if you move Hispaniola a bit. Come through the Panama Canal set your gyro to avoid shoals and you can't miss Jamaica. Creating the Hub will not be easy so let's believe in ourselves.

The Hub is a decadal project and should create thousands of jobs in new fields. The Hub will grow jobs in supply chain; maritime, aviation, road, rail, data, fulfilment, communications; tens of thousands in value chain optimisation, in-company logistics; basic "Picking, sorting, order assembly" 24 hours a day-the logistics world does not sleep; massive computerised warehouses; jobs that cater to workers in a corridor from St Thomas to the far West via Kingston. Competence in English and a skill is the ticket. Dream a little with me friend!

Our success depends on commitment by Cabinet, Parliament, project managers, Logistics professionals and thousands of skilled workers. The Hub needs bold men-warrior, diplomat, razor sharp risk takers to beat back bureaucracy; mix a Kingsley Thomas and Eddie Seaga of yesteryear - a ruthless streak to bang heads together, smooch clients, make deals and win! The components are massive and the scope is vast - your usual investment to the tenth power. Dream! We create the shell others fill it. This is huge. We must believe in ourselves!

The Hub is a network of work spaces; air, land and sea ports; connected and enabled by high speed corridors of data, ships, aircraft, road, rail communications; to make, assemble, sort; inputs from elsewhere to despatch everywhere as fulfilment firms move swiftly to markets. Kingston Metropolis ends in Mike Henry's Vernamfield; It includes the late Horace McDonald's super tanker break-bulk oil terminal (is Hess still on?) and dry dock at Cow Bay St Thomas with its deep draught. The studies by Japanese firms broke him financially, the insensitive local bureaucracy broke his spirit-they did not believe a black man could do it!

NMIA, Caymanas Economic Zone and Parks, Naggo Head, Tinson Pen, Vernamfield; Kingston Port, Cow Bay, Jackson Bay, SIA-a network of our large natural assets. They are more than the sum of their parts. We need investors, a welcoming labour force trained in logistics and predictable, speedy legal and regulatory regimes to make it work. Minister Hylton is a champion and needs a super project manager logistics professional evangelist as the face of the Hub.

Years ago I tried to start training in logistics. Today as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK), when IDB's Ancile Gloudon said in 2011 "The poor state of internal logistics are most debilitating", holding back growth; inventory costs are some 35% of GDP (World Bank) I knew it was time. Education and HRD precede a Logistics Hub if not, as the suave Fritz Pinnock of CMI avers we will be like Dubai Hub which imports 70% of its logistics labour. We either issue work permits or prepare our workforce. Believe!

Logistics is people and Minister Hylton correctly identifies education as a key. Last year the Caribbean Institute of Logistics and Transport (CaribILT) set to launch its member services, train logistics, supply chain and fulfilment staff-a plan held up for years. CaribILT offers the "P Log" designation of professional logisticians (like the ACCA of Accountants) as a not-for-profit membership body and its partner campus offers the MBA and degrees in logistics. CaribILT can link sister institutes in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas to access know-how, courses, research and a fine global qualification. Cabinet must facilitate this innovation.

The Hub will employ operators of computer-aided cranes, expeditors, integrators, aircraft mechanics, logistics technicians, managers of Fulfilment and more. A paperless Customs service will lubricate the system; watch out "Logistics spoken here". On retreat I spoke of firms as TNT, DHL in our Hub. FedEx made Memphis its base, created 25,000 new jobs and is now the second largest freight airport. Experts say "Cargo airports are the new drivers of development" Your made in China computer came via freightliner to Memphis to market. Vernamfield may host Chinese freightliners and create 15,000 jobs. We must believe!

The Hub will impact the whole island so the education sector response is key. HEART may migrate from personal services to logistics skills; CMI should expand; a CaribILT/Campus consortium means a conduit for know-how, innovation; investment in equipment, tools, simulators, and software is crucial. The dramatic impact on schools? we kick-out colonial vocational and technical stigma and embrace its fabric in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) led by a revved-up HEART and excellently capped by UTech in its mission as the acme of statal STEM. Education Renaissance is to embed age-related STEM as the driver of 21st Century schools from early years. Students should have seamless choices of STEM, Liberal Arts and Business so no student leaves school without a marketable skill. This integration will end job drought, focus our universities, assure a sustainable Logistics Hub and a prosperous Jamaica. My friend, belief kills and belief cures-only believe!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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