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Old Goodyear factory highlights need to deal with unemployment

Friday, June 29, 2012

The abandoned Goodyear factory in St Thomas, Jamaica's monument to trade union aggression, is in the news again.

This time, as reported Monday by our sister publication, the Jamaica Observer North East, the run-down factory is now home to goats. This is after the Government spent more than $143 million seven years ago to acquire the facility with the promise to establish a call centre.

The report in the Observer North East reminded us that it was the then minister of commerce, science and technology Phillip Paulwell who had announced that the call centre would be established following the refurbishing of the building.

According to Minister Paulwell, at the time of the announcement, talks had been ongoing with investors from India to relocate a number of their call centres to Jamaica, but they later decided against it.

"The people we were in touch with later lost interest and then the elections intervened and that was the end of that," he was quoted as telling the newspaper.

What is amazing about this issue is the fact that after these investors lost interest no effort seemed to have been made to recover the cost of acquiring the building.

As was reported by the Observer North East, people living in that section of the island feel that the State's negligence on this issue is a demonstration of a lack of interest in their well-being.

Mr Jermaine Francis, who lives in Chesick, was reported as saying that he and other residents get the impression that they are placed on the back burner.

Had the call centre been opened, they argued, it would have reduced unemployment in the parish, especially among young people.

The residents are, of course, correct; and we really can't fault them for feeling bitter about the experience, especially when we take into consideration the impact that the downturn in the sugar and banana industries has made on unemployment in St Thomas.

The abandoned facility, like many others, is now owned by the Factories Corporation of Jamaica, which has posted it as among the more than 400,000 square feet of industrial space under its management which is available for rental across the island.

Our hope is that all these industrial spaces will soon be utilised by investors, because the unemployment highlighted in that Observer North East story is not unique to St Thomas.

It is a big problem that the Government must address and which short-term measures, such as the Administration's much-touted Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme, will not resolve.

There are many highly skilled people who, because of the economic climate, are still searching for employment.

It is Government's responsibility therefore to move quickly to improve the conditions that will encourage investment in order to give these skilled people an opportunity to earn a living and further stimulate commerce.

It is our hope as well that the country will be spared the kind of nonsense that led to the shuttering of Goodyear.

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