Regional

Mandeville eyes third city status

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor at Large, South Central Bureau

Monday, April 23, 2018

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — For president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Garfield Green, a dream has evolved into a virtual crusade.

He wants Mandeville to be “the commercial hub for central Jamaica and for it to be established [as] the central city of Jamaica” — the nation's third city behind Kingston and Montego Bay, no less.

That driving ambition underpins plans for a major conference and expo in Mandeville on May 16 under the theme 'International Trade and Sustainable Development — Manchester Ready to Welcome the World'. Speakers and participants will include leading government and business officials and top diplomats representing Jamaica's traditional major trading partners, USA, Britain and Canada.

“Through the conference, we will be showing our international partners where we are and where we want to be in terms of development and growth,” a release from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce said. The focus will be on community safety and security, public health and wellness, agri-business and speciality foods, heritage, environment and sustainable tourism, and MSME (micro, small and medium-sized enterprise) development.

Mandeville's vision is a response to a third city project announced in 2016 by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and for which the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has responsibility.

As summarized by the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), the third city is intended to ease the burden on the infrastructure of Kingston, and support Government's objectives of having two-thirds of the population living in urban centres.

It's not immediately clear how, or, if at all, recently announced plans by Holness for the development of a large planned town in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, will affect the third city project.

But Green is not perturbed. “Mandeville is ideally located to serve four parishes — Manchester, Trelawny, Clarendon and St Elizabeth,” he told Jamaica Observer Central recently. “I think we can pull some of the economic activities from the two cities (Kingston and Montego Bay) into central Jamaica… we can be the commercial hub for central Jamaica,” said Green.

So what's so special about being formally declared a city?

“With city status comes development,” says Green.

“We agree we don't have it all, but if were to become the third and central city for Jamaica, I think we will attract the investment and development that we deserve, (including) security, five-star hotel, conference facilities and, of course, manufacturing … I think we could attract manufacturing plants here that would boost employment within the region,” he said.

Green and the chamber of commerce have strong support from other town elders, not least mayor of Mandeville, Donovan Mitchell.

“We still have land space to develop … to do proper planning of Mandeville itself,” Mitchell told Observer Central following a meeting of community leaders three months ago with general manager of the UDC, Dr Damian Graham.

In a comprehensive presentation, Graham outlined the vision of a third city which will be carefully planned, technologically smart, energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and capable of fully serving the needs of a growing population.

No area would have a “birthright” but about 60 per cent of the island wouldn't qualify because of environmental and conservation considerations as well as vulnerabilities including chronic land slippages, Graham said.

And while coastal and low-lying areas have traditionally accommodated the world's largest cities, Graham noted that climate change, triggering the threat of tsunamis and rising sea levels, meant upland areas were now increasingly attractive. That observation triggered an upbeat mood among his listeners since Mandeville and its surrounds are in excess of 2000 feet above sea level.

Yet, as Green himself would later point out to Observer Central, high altitude has its own disadvantages, not least in terms of readily available water. The greater Mandeville area has water shortfall to the tune of millions of gallons, with most of the life-giving liquid being expensively pumped from wells on the plains of neighbouring St Elizabeth.

All agree that big advantages for Mandeville include its relatively low crime rate, pleasant climate, and highly respected schools and college-led by the Northern Caribbean University. That education factor, Peter Bunting, Member of Parliament for Manchester Central, repeatedly says makes Mandeville ideal for knowledge-based industries such as the bourgeoning business processing outsourcing (BPO) sector.

As the bauxite/alumina sector in Manchester and the wider central Jamaica went into rapid decline a decade ago, Bunting played a lead role in encouraging the coming of Sutherland Global's labour-intensive BPO operations to Mandeville.

“We have tremendous educational infrastructure, reasonably good health care (and) … Mandeville is sufficiently distant from (Kingston and Montego Bay) to become a hub in its own right,” argued Bunting during the meeting with Graham.

Businessman Stafford Haughton emphasised that the local private sector will have to invest capital in order to reap rewards. “Public-private partnership is key to anything we going to achieve,” said Haughton. “People in Manchester and central Jamaica will have to understand that not only the Government … but we as private persons have to put our money where our mouth is and get involved as much as we can, and embrace the vision as much as we can,” he said.

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