‘We are more than mining’
“Business opportunities are like buses; there’s always another one coming.”
This quote from British billionaire Richard Branson, the chairman of the Virgin Group, prominently displayed on the website of Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited (JBM Limited, or simply JBM), captures the direction in which Donna Howe, the entity’s managing director, is taking the company since her appointment two-and-half years ago. Bauxite may be its chief business now, but Howe, through a mandate from the Government, is steering the entity to diversify.
“We are more than mining,” Howe told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview. “Our core business used to be mining and exporting bauxite. JBM under my leadership in the last two years have reshaped ourselves for an objective beyond passive income.”
That passive income which Howe refers to is the earnings it gets from bauxite through its 51 per cent holding in Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II, a stake it holds on behalf of the Government in partnership with New Day Aluminum (Jamaica) Limited, which holds the other 49 per cent. Though it holds that stake, JBM no longer participates in bauxite trading, but monitors and has oversight of the operations of the bauxite company.
What Howe has been mandated to do by the company’s board, through the direction of central Government, is to use its assets to earn income. And for the JBM, it has a lot of assets.
“We have a port, land and plant that we used to operate,” Howe highlights. “We have a mandate that says [we must] use our assets to generate new revenues.”
To that end, Howe in late November embarked on a trip to the United Kingdom to seek out initiatives and partnerships for investing in its assets. It currently owns 4,000 acres of land, mostly in St Ann. This land includes lands which are still to be mined for bauxite and others which have already been mined. It also operates the port at Reynold’s Pier in Ocho Rios and another at Discovery Bay. It is these assets that the company is seeking now to develop to earn and the plan is to do so in a sustainable way.
“In our expansion projects now, we will look to do so in a green way and a blue way,” Howe continued. She said the company will ensure that if it builds a new berth at any of the ports, it is done in a way to mitigate its carbon footprint. “We also look at energy efficiency in the loading process and other projects around sustainability,” she added.
Outside of the port, Howe said she will put to work lands owned by the company that are now idle.
“One of those projects we will be doing is building a logistics commercial park in Lydford, St Ann, and we want to do it in a sustainable way,” she outlined. Another is to build a new housing scheme of 150 acres with over 700 houses. The area on which the logistics park is to be built was once a plant. It will house facilities for light manufacturing and warehousing. Given its centrality in St Ann and being not too far from the fast developing Drax Hall area, Howe is confident the project will be complementary, given its almost equidistant location between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, the two largest towns on Jamaica’s north coast.
But all projects, Howe stresses, must be sustainable. It was with this in mind, that she made the trip to the UK recently.
“The purpose of the trip was to gain knowledge on building green projects which are regulated and to get it qualified as a green project. We collaborated with a number of entities in different areas, around green financing, green materials and we garnered a lot of research which will help us to build a sustainable, bankable green project,” she said.
For each project, there are several boxes to be ticked to be classified as “green”.
“When you look at the qualifying criteria, it speaks about where the renewable energy is coming from, waste management, etc,” she pointed out as she outlined that it will involve building “a renewable energy substation” to serve the logistics park and the housing scheme, both of which will be in proximity to each other.
And what’s the investment for these?
“We are talking about $4 billion for both projects. We are at the initiation stage now [involving] collecting the data. We’ve just called for RFPs for financing the two projects and once we get that, there are other Government processes we have to go through.” RFP refers to a request for proposal – a project announcement posted publicly by an organisation indicating that bids for contractors to complete the project are sought.
Howe said both projects are expected to start in the next 18 to 24 months and within four years should move the entity from earning just under $300 million in passive income annually from its bauxite holdings to $1.3 billion when the new projects come on stream.
As for the ports, the development will take a similarly sustainable route. Howe said in her meetings in the UK, “heightened interests” were expressed in the port development. And though the ports now handle exports of bauxite, sugar and limestone, she said all those, including the supply chain, will have to be sustainable, if the port development to come is to be certified green. It also involves being strict about monitoring, not only its carbon footprint, but also the carbon footprint of the entities wanting to use the port.
“That [JBM’s carbon footprint] is an unknown factor. Our industry being in bauxite is going to be heavily regulated. Governance is going to be the big thing… Because of where we have to now be responsive in climate change, everything is going to require the critical materials law… there is regulation coming out in the US that everyone needs to know what there carbon footprint is and there is going to be a tax on it.”
“We as an entity are getting ready to prepare ourselves to know all along the supply chain, accurate measurements of your carbon footprint. It is not going to be a voluntary thing, that you want to be environmentally responsible, but the governance regulation is going to drive you to know that. At this moment, we as an entity are not really heavily carbon emissions high, but our industry is, and we have to be cognisant of that. Our port, the vessels we berth including cruise vessels and cargo, by their very nature, drive a high carbon footprint. And going forward, we need to be responsible, so any new initiative must get us to carbon neutrality.”
Floyd Green, minister of agriculture, fisheries and mining, has portfolio responsibility for JBM. He told the Caribbean Business Report that the push by the company is to fulfil its mandate of ensuring all assets are put to work.
“Clearly, the JBM which was set up as a company has to do a number of things. We clearly still have an interest in bauxite… but, the JBM Limited has a number of assets, whether it be industrial park or land, and they have to look at those areas and develop a plan for significant revenue stream.”
Green said though the company is focused on industrial development, it also has lands which are suited for agriculture, and those will be deployed in that area.
“We have asked the JBM to look at lands that can be used for an agro-park,” Green said as he praised the visit to the United Kingdom to participate in the trade and invest forum as “a step in the right direction”.
“We have been trying to court now how can we get these finances that the UK is providing, a line of about US$60m to their companies to invest in, things that are sustainable and have a renewable energy component. Things that really strengthen the green economy and we believe that agriculture and mining does that,” he said.